Preparedness & Recovery

Firefighters Turn to Chemical Detox Saunas to Thwart the Cancer Threat

Firefighters are at increased risk because of toxic smoke and chemicals on the job.

by Jim McKay / April 3, 2018

Firefighters are suffering from an inordinate number of cancer deaths and some departments are hoping Chemical Detox Infrared Saunas can, at least partly, provide some hope.

A study by researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the National Cancer Institute, and the University of California at Davis Department of Public Health Sciences, completed a five-year study in 2015 of nearly 30,000 firefighters from Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco and concluded that firefighters in the study had a greater number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths.

The firefighters studied had at least one day of active duty between 1950 and 2009 and found that when compared to the number of cancer cases in the general U.S. population, the firefighters had an increase of 9 percent in diagnoses and a 14 percent increase in death.

The International Association of Fire Fighters says that 60 percent of career firefighters die from cancer.

The chemicals and the smoke from things in fire are breathed by the firefighters and come into contact with skin. “We go to a fire and the smoke, the chemicals, whatever, may rub against your skin and is absorbed into the body,” said Capt., Eran Denzler with the East Montgomery County Fire Department in Texas.

The county recently purchased one SaunaRay Chemical Detox Infrared Sauna and plans to purchase one for each of the four departments.

Denzler said that immediately after a fire or fire drill, firefighters will rinse off in a shower, get into some loose-fitting workout clothes and hop into the sauna and onto a stationary bicycle and start peddling.

“The sauna puts the firefighter into a fever state and purges the toxins that he has absorbed while fighting fires,” Denzler said. He said the participants are encouraged to reach a sweat, so they bike for about 10 minutes. “The infrared light and the heat take over, and at that point you sweat out the toxins.”

The Indianapolis Fire Department has also deployed the sauna, having seen a demonstration of one at the Fire Department Instructors conference in 2015. At about $6,000 per unit, the sauna is worth the investment to try to curb the health concerns of the profession.

The main problem firefighters encounter may be the smoke, according to an article in The Atlantic Daily. More specifically, the smoke that emanates from the synthetic stuff that burns in houses — plastics, foams and coatings that experts say create hundreds of times more smoke than organic materials.

Denzler said the sauna is just part of a renewed focus on firefighter health. Annual doctor visits that include blood work, CT scans and cardiac assessments are required and so is a physical assessment and mandatory washing of gear.

The gear includes thick pants, a coat, boots, gloves, a hood and mask. The hoods are permeable, and the soot and smoke make their way to the skin and stick to it. The absorption is aided by heat. Skin absorption rates increase by as much as 400 percent, according to The Atlantic Daily.