Researchers seek to identify specific carcinogens affecting firefighters

Firefighters are 14 percent more likely to experience cancer-related deaths than the general U.S. population, according to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.


  • Janaya Greene
March 8, 2018
Susan Olivo-Marston and Olorunfemi Adetona

CPH researchers Susan Olivo-Marston, PhD, MPH, Olorunfemi Adetona, PhD, and Darryl Hood, PhD, are building off of this study to find ways to improve firefighters’ occupational safety.

The team will use biological markers in firefighters to identify which specific contaminants emitted in structural fire smoke are associated with cancer.

Olivo-Marston, assistant professor of epidemiology, hopes this study will give fire departments a better idea of how to reduce the risk of cancer in their workforce.

“We don’t really have a good grasp of what this increase of cancer risk looks like and which types of cancer we're dealing with,” Olivo-Marston says. “That’s our goal: to really begin to understand the risk that these firefighters have solely due to their job and to learn if there are certain types of cancer that they’re at higher risk of versus others.”

Adetona, assistant professor of environmental health sciences, says he and his co-investigators are recruiting participants for the study from fire departments in Columbus and throughout Ohio.

"There are many things they’re doing to reduce the exposure and absorption of contaminants in their bodies," Adetona says. "They’re providing firefighters with additional gear so used gear can be cleaned after they respond to a fire and they’re introducing ventilation in their vehicle bays to reduce the level of diesel exhaust that could seep into their living quarters.”

He adds that leadership of these fire departments are eager to understand the specific risks their workforce faces, and with backgrounds in volunteer firefighting, Olivo-Marston and Adetona are eager to help.


About The Ohio State University College of Public Health

The Ohio State University College of Public Health is a leader in educating students, creating new knowledge through research, and improving the livelihoods and well-being of people in Ohio and beyond.  The College’s divisions include biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health behavior and health promotion, and health services management and policy.   It is ranked 23rd among all colleges of public health in the U.S. by U.S. News and World Report, and also includes the top 7-ranked MHA degree program.  The College provides leadership and expertise for Ohio and the world through its Center for Health Outcomes, Policy and Evaluation Studies (HOPES), Center for Public Health Practice (CPHP), and Center for the Advancement of Tobacco Science (CATS).