COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVN) --  Firefighters say chemical flame retardants, once thought to be important fire safety tools, are now known to be toxic and to release carcinogens when they burn. They claim this has resulted in a higher cancer rates among firefighters.

"These are bad for everybody and they're really bad for us because once these products burn, and they do burn, they release their toxins into the atmosphere and we're the ones who are getting them through absorption in our skin, through our eyes and even through our respiratory tracts," said Columbus firefighter David Bernzweig.

More than 20 events were organized around the country to honor fire fighters who have passed away from occupational related illnesses, some linked to toxic chemical exposure.

The Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters says decades worth of scientific research shows toxic chemicals, like flame retardants, are linked to health problems including cancer and hormone-disruption and are harmful to the developing brain. 

“Fire fighters face the danger associated with our profession every day in communities across Ohio,” commented Mark Sanders, OAPFF President. “Conventional wisdom told us we could see and feel those dangers: flames, heat, collapse of buildings. These toxic flame retardants are poisoning us in ways we often times can’t see or feel and certainly in ways never anticipated.”

While 11 states are considering policies on toxic flame retardants in their legislatures, the OAPFF says Ohio’s legislature has been silent on this issue.

“Fire fighters and children have in common a heightened exposure to chemical flame retardants in our home environments,” stated Melanie Houston, Director of

Environmental Health at the Ohio Environmental Council. “We need strong federal and state laws on toxic chemicals, laws that protect our most vulnerable populations, including infants, children and fire fighters. Unfortunately the most recent bill introduced in the U.S. House, the Chemicals in Commerce Act, does not do this.” 

Bernzweig says the only way to reign in the problem is to limit the use of toxic chemicals.