World Health Organization reclassifies firefighting as ‘carcinogenic’

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) – The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reclassified firefighting as ‘carcinogenic.’ The occupation was previously listed as ‘possibly carcinogenic.’

Several studies, including research by the University of Arizona, led to the breakthrough decision.


For retired Tucson Assistant Fire Chief, Laura Baker, the announcement hits close to home.

“It makes me proud, it’s emotional,” said Baker, “but I am very grateful.”

Baker’s home is full of photographs. They are precious memories she hangs onto of her late wife, Jacki deHaro.

“Jacki was the love of my life,” said Baker. “She was an amazing firefighter, an amazing friend, sister and daughter. We were together for 10 years and were married for two. It was not nearly long enough, but I am grateful for the time that we did have.”

deHaro was a Tucson Fire Captain. In 2018, she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. deHaro passed away in 2020.

“If there was a breakthrough before we came on [as firefighters], absolutely, I think it would have made a difference,” Baker said.

Baker is a breast cancer survivor.

It propelled their daughter into the field of medical research. As a University of Arizona student, Jordan worked with Dr. Jeff Burgess to study the impacts of firefighting on the human body.

“Jacki would be so proud of her,” Baker said.

“What the research found was what many inherently knew,” said Tucson Fire Chief Chuck Ryan. “Exposure to carcinogens in our everyday environment that firefighters encounter day in and day out does, in fact, have significant biological changes. It actually can alter DNA.”

Fire Chief Ryan says the findings reinforce the cancer mitigation measures the Tucson Fire Department (TFD) has already adopted. He hopes it will encourage fire agencies to implement more frequent cancer screenings. He also expects it will lead to new research on protective equipment and technology.

“There aren’t really words to capture how important this is to the fire service,” said Fire Chief Ryan. “Worldwide, really.”

Copyright 2022 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.

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