Mortality of urban firefighters in Alberta, 1927-1987

Am J Ind Med. 1993 Jun;23(6):921-40. doi: 10.1002/ajim.4700230608.


The mortality experience of firefighters has been an active topic of investigation. Collateral toxicological evidence suggests that certain causes of death are likely to be associated with firefighting: lung cancer, heart disease, and obstructive pulmonary disease. To date there has not been a clear and consistent demonstration of excess risk due to occupational exposure for these outcomes, but certain other cancers, including genitourinary, colon and rectum, and leukemias, lymphomas, and myeloma, appear to be consistently elevated. A major unproven hypothesis is that risk increased following the introduction, in the 1950s of combustible plastic furnishing and building materials known to generate toxic combustion products. Mortality by cause of death was examined for two cohorts totalling 3,328 firefighters active from 1927 to 1987 in Edmonton and Calgary, the two major urban centers in the province of Alberta, Canada, examining associations with cohort (before and after the 1950s) and years of service weighted by exposure opportunity. The study attained 96% follow-up of vital status and over 64,983 person-years of observation, yielding 370 deaths. Mortality from all causes was close to the expected standardized mortality ratio (96; 95% confidence limits (CL) 87, 107) as was that for heart disease (110; 95% CL 92, 131), and neither was statistically significant at the p < 0.05 level (N.S.). Excesses were observed for all malignant neoplasms (127; 95% CL 102, 155, p < 0.05) and for cancer of lung (142; 95% CL 91, 211, N.S.), bladder (315; 95% CL 86, 808, N.S.), kidney and ureter (414; 95% CL 166, 853, p < 0.05), colon and rectum (161; 95% CL 88, 271, N.S.), pancreas (155; 95% CL 50, 362, N.S.) and leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma (127; 95% CL 61, 233, N.S.); obstructive pulmonary diseases (157; 95% CL 79, 281, N.S.). Fire-related causes showed a marked excess (486; 95% CL 233, 895, p < 0.01), but external causes overall showed a significant deficit (66; 95% CL 49, 87, p < 0.05). The lung cancer excess was confined to Edmonton; there was no consistent association with duration of employment, exposure opportunity, or cohort of entry (before or after the 1950s) except that the highest risk was observed among Edmonton firefighters with over 35 weighted years. The excess of cancers of the urinary tract was observed mostly among firefighters entering service after 1950, appeared to increase with length of service and exposure opportunity, and was observed in both cities. An occupational association with heart disease and chronic pulmonary disease is not supported in this study on this population.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alberta / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality
  • Cause of Death
  • Cohort Studies
  • Fires*
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / etiology
  • Lung Diseases / mortality
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Occupational Diseases / mortality*
  • Time Factors
  • Urban Population
  • Urogenital Neoplasms / etiology
  • Urogenital Neoplasms / mortality