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Monash University – Fiskville firefighters’ health study
Today the Premier announced the release of Monash University’s Fiskville Firefighters’ Health Study of people who worked and trained on the Fiskville hot fire training ground between 1971 and 1999.
The study found higher than expected rates of skin, testicular and brain cancer. However, when compared with the Victorian community, the overall incidence of cancer was not higher for the study group as a whole.
Among the 606 people who were subject of the study, 69 cancers were discovered that resulted in 16 deaths.
The study was commissioned by CFA in November 2012 and led by Associate Professor Deborah Glass from Monash University’s Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine. The study examined cancer rates among people who were categorised in ‘medium’ and ‘high’ relative risk of exposure groups as identified by Professor Joy in his Report of the Independent Fiskville Investigation (the Joy Report), plus trainees who attended recruit courses at Fiskville during that time (who are in the ‘low’ group).
The exposure was to a variety of potential materials, including flammable chemicals, combustion products, foams and recycled firewater. The table below identifies those who were categorised in these groups.
People identified by Professor Joy as having a ‘high’, ‘medium’ or ‘low’ relative risk of chronic exposure during the period 1971-1999
‘High’ Group: PAD workers and full-time instructors
‘Medium’ Group: Part-time instructors (who were volunteer and regional staff)
‘Low’ and ‘Negligible’ Groups: Other Fiskville employees (administrative, kitchen and catering, finance, maintenance, gardening, domestic, etc), visitors, recruits, trainees and residents of Fiskville.
The Fiskville Firefighters’ Health Study found a higher incidence of melanoma and cancer of the testis in the ‘high’ risk of exposure group and brain cancer in the ‘medium’ risk of exposure group.
When compared to the wider Victorian community, the study found the overall cancer risk for the ‘low’ group was significantly lower than expected. It also found the overall mortality was lower than expected for the whole study group when compared to the general Australian population. The researchers concluded this may be due to higher fitness levels needed to become a firefighter and a healthier lifestyle led by this group of workers.
You can download the full study here.
The authors urge the findings of the Fiskville Firefighters’ Health Study should be interpreted and used with caution due to a number of limitations, including the small number of people in the study.
The authors also note the findings of the Fiskville Firefighters’ Health Study are consistent with other larger investigations of firefighters, including Monash University’s Australian Firefighters’ Health Study which was released on 12 December 2014. This nationwide study of Australian firefighters was commissioned by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), and examined mortality rates and incidences of cancer for over 232,000 firefighters from nine Australian fire agencies.
In announcing the study today, Premier Daniel Andrews said for those who work there now, there are very low risks associated with this site today because remediation work has been done and that is an important point to make. But also, there’s ongoing oversight and monitoring of those risks and that vigilance is critically important. He also said these are largely historical issues.
The Fiskville Firefighters’ Health Study and all others undertaken in relation to Fiskville will be available to inform the Parliamentary Inquiry and any future discussions about ongoing support for past and present members who may have been affected.
Following the release of the Joy Report, we began a Voluntary Health Surveillance Program for people in the ‘high’ or ‘medium’ groups.
Please be assured that we will continue to provide ongoing welfare assistance and support, including the Health Surveillance Program. It is not too late to join the Health Surveillance Program for those who originally chose not to participate.