An ordinary silicone wristband may hold the key to tracking firefighters’ exposure to harmful chemicals and pinpointing areas of greatest risk, according to an article from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Researchers say that the inexpensive wristbands, which can be purchased in bulk for about one dollar each, absorb the semi-volatile organic compounds that wearers are exposed to when they’re out in the world. Studies by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health report that firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% percent higher risk of dying from the disease than the general adult U.S. population
According to the article, the Durham Fire Department approached Duke requesting help identifying the risks faced by their firefighters. Levels of PAH, brominated flame retardants and organophosphate esters were higher in the wristbands worn while firefighters were working than in those worn while they were off duty, which researchers say suggests firefighters are exposed to more of these compounds than the average adult, regardless of whether or not they were responding to a fire while working. The bands worn by firefighters on days when they actively fought a fire reportedly showed 2.5 times more of a form of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) than the bands worn when they were off duty.
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