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FIREFIGHTER DECON: Nothing says you have to. The facts say you should.


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Studies show that firefighters have a significantly increased risk of cancers and other serious illnesses compared to the general population due to their exposure from hazardous chemicals found in smoke, soot and even from their own gear. In fact, on June 30, 2022, the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC) has officially declared firefighting as a cancer-causing profession by moving it from a 'Group 2B - Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans' to a 'Group 1 - Carcinogenic to Humans'. See the Monographs HERE.

The toxins to which firefighters are exposed include:

  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Heavy metals
  • Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and
  • Other organic toxins such as benzene

These not only have been proven to cause cancer, but a host of other diseases and DNA mutations.

And it's not just the soot you can see - 97% of the particulates that you are exposed to as a firefighter cannot be seen. That soot you can see represents only 3% of the danger to your body.

3% of particulates to which a firefighter is exposed cannot be seen.

The University of Ottawa study quantifying firefighter exposure (2018) showed firefighters had 3-5X more metabolites (byproducts of PAHs) in their urine after a fire on average, with 4 times increase of the potential for DNA mutations. Some had PAH concentrations up to 60x higher after a fire.

As a rule of thumb, if it's on your gear, it's on your skin and can be absorbed. And the more your skin's temperature increases, the more easily those toxins are absorbed into your bloodstream - the rate of dermal absorption increases 400% for every 5-degree increase in body temperature. New research shows toxins can absorb into your skin just minutes after exposure, making quick and proper decon of utmost importance.

400% - the increased rate of dermal absorption for every 5 degree increase in skin temperature

The term 'Toxic Handoff' means that contamination can occur through surface exposure - you expose others as these toxins are transferred from you, your clothing, your equipment, your vehicle ... all the way to your home. 

This also translates to your gear - even after it's been washed, testing has shown gear remains contaminated. Studies show only 40% of toxins are removed from gear, meaning every time you don your gear, you are exposed to 60% of toxins from the last incident.

Toxic Handoff cycle of exposure

Source: Exposure Studies: Initial origins of PAHs and point source contamination  leading to firefighter exposure, Jeramy Baum, Department of Chemistry, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Miami

From 2015 to 2020, 75% of the names added to the IAFF Fallen Firefighter Memorial Wall died from occupational cancer75%. A small few of these will be recognized as official line-of-duty deaths.

Using wipes on scene is a great way for initial, quick personal decon. Wipe effectiveness varies, but are shown they can remove as much as 54% of contaminants from the wiped area.

Your standards should also include washing immediately and thoroughly after an incident for maximum risk reduction

But if you're showering and still smelling "that smell" (you know the one) even after washing, that is an indication of significantly increased levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in your body.

That smoky smell = a 46% increase in PAHs

A 2021 study (Hoppe-Jones C, et al. Evaluation of fireground exposures using urinary PAH metabolites. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2021) found that skin smelling like smoke after having showered after a fire was associated with a 46% increase in urinary PAH metabolites compared to firefighters responding to a fire and their skin not smelling like smoke. 

This means that if you're smelling that smoky smell even after showering, that is significantly associated with a dramatic increase in cancer-causing, DNA-mutating toxins in your body.

It also takes an incredibly short period of time for carcinogenic PAHs to become detectable in blood after exposure, so washing should occur as soon as possible post-exposure - whether on scene or after handling equipment at the station. Showering as quickly as possible (within the hour) has been proven to remove more toxins, but a more efficacious approach includes washing your hands, and any body part touched or exposed to gear, directly after exposure.  This means having an effective contaminant-removing soap on scene for washing, as well as in the stations for washing after handling contaminated equipment, and showering products for both skin and hair.

Up your decon game with soap and shampoo designed specifically for firefighter decon. If you are still smelling that smoky stench after washing or showering, your soap isn't cutting it. 

SOOTSOAP was designed for firefighter decontamination to remove organic toxins, impurities and chemicals and was lab and field tested with firefighters over the course of 2 years. It is PROVEN to remove more contaminants than any other personal decon product tested. Our Detoxifying & Deodorizing Hand & Body Soap and Shampoo get rid of THAT smell in ONE WASH, guaranteed. Imagine what else it’s getting rid of.

SOOTSOAP detoxifying and deodorizing Hand & Body Soap 500ml with pumpSOOTSOAP detoxifying and deodorizing Shampoo 500ml


The 2025 NFPA 1585 Standard for Exposure and Contamination Control officially recognizes the risks of dermal exposure and skin absorption and states the importance of post exposure personal decontamination. Section A.5.2.4. states "Soap and water are best for removing fireground or nonbiological contaminants. It is important to wash for at least 20 seconds with soap".

Now that the Standards are finally catching up to the risk, let's focus on the most effective post incident cleansing. 

FACT. You can reduce the risk of toxic exposure by setting your own standards for personal decon

It's time. If your department is focused on Health & Safety and taking responsibility for risk reduction, reach out for a SOOTSOAP quote, or to find a Distribution partner near you.

SOOTSOAP was lab-developed specifically for firefighter decon, and it works; it is more effective at the removal of PAHs than any other personal decon product tested. Our detoxifying & deodorizing Shampoo and Hand & Body Soap are available in a variety of sizes ranging from single use up to bulk format for station use and dispenser refills (1.89L / 64 fl oz, with 1G coming soon). 

Reach out to us at for more information, research, connections to Departments who stock SOOTSOAP, testimonials, or SDS. 

  Firefighters: 11 Actions to Reduce Your Risk of Exposure

SOOTSOAP personal decon shower dispenser

“SOOTSOAP should be in every shower, in every station.”

[Matt R., Ontario, Canada]




Sootsoap - your one stop Decon shop


Library - Firefighter Cancer Support Network / FF Cancer Awareness Month - open access to clinical studies, articles, policies and guidelines

Register at F.A.C.E. Team Resources ( for extensive resources, programs and access to grants.

See more research studies on firefighter contamination on

If you would like to support firefighter prevention, or help firefighters and their families affected by cancer, please reach out to us at or our friends at FCSN

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