A photo of building ablaze on a dark evening

Brighton leads firefighters’ health risk research

University of Brighton researchers have been leading the way on a study to see if firefighters are suffering serious health problems from exposure to high levels of harmful chemicals.

For the past year they have been taking blood and urine samples from more than 140 firefighters to determine if there is a link between exposure and incidents among them of diseases including cancer.

A smiling Dr Alan Richardson wearing a navy tshirt

The search for contaminants in the samples will continue until November, according to Dr Alan Richardson, lead researcher and Principal Lecturer in the School of Sport and Service Management. He said: “We are in the process of collecting and analysing samples and should be able to present the findings early next year.”

Dr Richardson and colleague Dr Emily Watkins, who completed her PhD at the University of Brighton and recently left to join the University of Roehampton, have been looking at possible links between contaminants and firefighter’ work practices and workloads.

Dr Watkins said: “We want to know, for instance, if there is a connection between health issues and the number and types of fires individual firefighters attend.”

UK’s fire chief officer reportedly has accepted there is a high rate of cancer among colleagues. There are concerns this may be partly due to contaminated clothing and equipment and the Fire Brigades Union is calling for better protection.

The Home Office is supporting the National Fire Chiefs Council in establishing a health and wellbeing board focusing on prevention and early intervention.

photo of Dr Emily Watkins who has long blonde hair

Firefighters in East Sussex, Hampshire, Essex, Kent, West Midlands and Staffordshire have provided samples for the University of Brighton research with results expected to be published at the end of 2020.

The issue was to be aired on BBC One’s Inside Out programme on Monday (30 Sept) and can be seen on the iPlayer.