Vic firefighter cancer study criticised

Vic firefighter cancer study criticised

Firefighters potentially exposed to dangerous chemicals at a Victorian training facility are at no greater risk of developing cancer than the public, a study has found.


But the Cancer Council Victoria, which prepared the report for the Country Fire Authority, concedes the study’s sample size is too small to precisely estimate the risk to firefighters.

The firefighters’ union picked up on that on Thursday, saying the sample was too small to be able to draw conclusions.

The study compared cancer rates in the Victorian public to those in 599 firefighters who attended the CFA’s Fiskville training college between 1971 and 1999.

It found they did not have an increased incidence of cancer when compared with the total Victorian population and the Australian-born Victorian population.

Of the 599, 61 were diagnosed with first primary invasive cancers between 1982 and 2012.

The most common were prostate cancer (14) and melanoma (13), with all others recorded in single digits.

But the report, released on Thursday by the CFA, said the cancers were in line with a male cohort, and a cohort that worked outdoors.

A further four people were diagnosed with secondary cancers.

Cancer Council Victoria spokeswoman Thea Cargill said proving a relationship between workplace exposure and cancer risk was often difficult because of factors such as differing exposure levels, multiple and competing exposures or risks, genetics and chance.

“After all, we know that one in three Victorians will develop cancer before age 75 years and most of these have no known cause,” she said.

“When considering the findings of this report, we must keep in mind that the sample size was too small to estimate relative risks with precision.”

United Firefighters Union Victorian secretary Peter Marshall said the study’s sample size was too small to draw conclusions.

He said the CFA failed to consult the union or the ill firefighters it represents about the report.

“This is an organisation that has no shame,” he told AAP.

“We are also disappointed with Cancer Council Victoria. They have engaged in what we say is a public relations exercise on behalf of the CFA.”

CFA chief executive officer Mick Bourke said the findings would be a relief to many firefighters and their families.

“The results of the report will be welcome news for people who trained or worked at Fiskville between 1971 and 1999. I hope this may give our people some peace of mind,” he said.

The study follows a 2012 report that found firefighters who trained at Fiskville had been exposed to dangerous chemicals going as far back as the 1970s, but declared the training ground now safe.

Mr Bourke said Monash University was conducting a parallel epidemiology study for the CFA, which is due to be completed by the end of 2014.