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  • Nick Holderbaum

Camouflaged Carcinogens

Updated: Dec 3, 2019


Cancer caused 61 percent of the career firefighter line-of-duty deaths from January 1, 2002, to March 31, 2017, according to data from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). The fire service is taking many steps to reduce cancer risk among first responders. We no longer sleep next to our bunker pants covered in carcinogens. Gone are the days of smoking in the firehouse. No vaping allowed. Ventilation systems are being installed to remove diesel particulate from apparatus bays. Skin scans are recommended if not required by many departments. SCBA use during overhaul and hot showers immediately after fires are helping to limit exposure to carcinogens and time of exposure. Credit to all of those who brought these life saving measures to fruition, but what about the non-obvious offenders? I’m talking about vegetable oils and sleep deprivation.


Industrial vegetable/seed oils: Canola, Corn, Cottonseed, Soy, Sunflower, Safflower, Grapeseed, Rice bran.


Seed oils are made up of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). PUFAs are unstable, and break down when exposed to chemical stress, heat, and even light. You’ve been told canola oil is heart healthy and to use it in place of saturated fat like butter and bacon grease. Fact of the matter is, removing these chemical carcinogens from your diet should be your number one priority. Over 90% of Canola oil is genetically modified. Canola oil itself is a remarkably effective pesticide. In fact, it’s the key ingredient in many “non-chemical” pesticides. These oils inflict direct damage to your DNA at the cellular level, cause free radical damage, and an increased risk of several types of cancer. That’s really bad. If you’re eating out, or buying processed foods, you’re being fed these toxic oils. Remove them from your firehouse for good. No exceptions. For more information on what to cook with instead of vegetable oils, check out my previous post on healthy fats.


Sleep Deprivation:


First responders get paid to sleep. Wrong, first responders get paid to have their sleep interrupted by obnoxious tones throughout the night. Helping others while hurting ourselves isn’t exactly altruistic. We do our best to control the damage caused by sleep deprivation, but it’s not enough. I can’t imagine a future where society continues to allow their first responders to suffer from sleep disorders. We will look back on current shift schedules in bewilderment. More than damage control, we need permanent change.


“Night time exposure to blue light is associated with a 1.5-fold and 2-fold higher risk of developing breast and prostate cancer, respectively. Breast and prostate cancers are also significantly higher in shift workers.” - Dr. Rhonda Patrick


If cancer risk isn’t enough to stir up the conversation, risk for motor vehicle accidents while driving drowsy should. According to the CDC, “Studies have shown that going too long without sleep can impair your ability to drive the same way as drinking too much alcohol. Being awake for at least 18 hours is the same as someone having a blood content (BAC) of 0.05%. Being awake for at least 24 hours is equal to having a blood alcohol content of 0.10%. This is higher than the legal limit (0.08% BAC) in all states.” Not only is it extremely dangerous to drive an enormous fire truck immediately after waking from a deep sleep, but driving home or to your second job after a poor night's sleep is just as risky.


First responders have to be available to respond to “emergencies” at all times of the night. That’s reality. It’s called the graveyard shift for a reason. That being said, there are questions we have to ask. What shift schedule is best for preventing sleep disorders? Should more departments allow or even enforce designated nap times? What does your department’s health and wellness program look like? The data is out there. We have a real problem in need of real solutions. We need to focus on root-cause resolution. More importantly than what a job does for you, is what a job does to you. If you’re looking for actionable takeaways to improve your sleep quality check out - The First Responder’s Ultimate Guide to Sleep. Your health, your hands.



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