Firefighters tell European Parliament that action is needed to stop occupational cancer

Hearing at the European Parliament - Firefighters EPSU 22 March 2023

(22 March 2023) Today the European Parliament hears from firefighters in the frame of the debate on the legislation on the exposure of asbestos.

In a rare - and welcome - move, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) will hear from firefighters who are heavily exposed to carcinogens such as asbestos. Unusually, some of the speakers are not representing a national or European organisation but will speak as ‘expert workers’.

The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) welcomes these moves and hopes that other groups that have been applauded by society - notably during the pandemic - receive the same public recognition from all EU institutions. Nurses, waste workers and municipal workers deserve to be heard because public services are an essential part of our societies.

Firefighters are concretely asking for financial resources and the political will to reduce their exposure to chemicals. Their demands involve the purchase of washing machines, protective gloves and filter masks as well as the harmonisation and setting of requirements for national guidelines or legislation and the development of decontamination procedures after an intervention.

It is a fact that when firefighters extinguish a construction fire, car fire, land or forest fires, this occupational group is exposed to hazardous toxic particles and substances such as asbestos, PFAS, etc. By wearing a breathing apparatus, they can protect themselves to some extent and minimize the risk of inhalation of toxic particles and substances. But the toxic particles and substances stick to protective equipment, including rescue tools, fire hoses, respiratory masks, protective boots and gloves, and more. This means that everything firefighters touch contributes to them being contaminated by hazardous particles and substances.

Research shows that the skin and respiratory organs of firefighters are exposed before, during and after a fire. This is why firefighters are demanding that the EU follows the World Health Organization recommendation to recognise firefighter occupational exposure as a carcinogen and ensure that all EU legislation provides greater protection of firefighters who are today dying of cancer. The upcoming Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive Revision must therefore take firefighters’ concerns into account. EPSU is demanding a set of national registries of buildings with asbestos in the frame of the current legislative proposal.

In a context of climate change, firefighters are the first line in the mitigation and adaptation in every single EU country. At the same time, EU economic governance rules are making it close to impossible for public authorities to employ more of them. The European Parliament must acknowledge that there isn’t a greener job than those that protect our lives and the environment.

Raffaele Cozzolino, a firefighter from Italy, will address the hearing as an expert worker while Mikael Svanberg, a retired firefighter from Sweden, will represent EPSU. Read more here.


For more information: Pablo Sanchez, [email protected] 00 32 (0) 47462663