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Q&A: Modern wildfires pose new health risks for firefighters

August 13, 2019 / Barbara Feder Ostrov

As California's wildfire season gets underway in earnest this month, new research underscores the risks that modern wildfires pose to firefighters' long-term health. Studies long have linked firefighters' on-the-job exposure to chemicals and toxins in urban blazes with an increased risk of cancer. More recently, as urban-style development reaches into once remote stretches of California's mountains and forests, wildfires are decimating not only vast swaths of forest but also whole communities of homes and businesses. That means firefighters are dealing with exposure to the intense heat produced by burning vegetation as well as fuels and carcinogens more common in urban fires. And, wildfire crews typically aren't equipped with the bulky protective gear urban firefighters wear.