James Haskins began working as a full-time firefighter for the Kern County, California Fire Department in 1978. During his employment, he worked as a firefighter, engineer, and captain. Based on log books, Haskins estimated he responded to over 3,000 calls during his 33-year tenure with the County. The calls consisted of approximately 1,411 false alarms, 842 calls for medical aid, and 981 fires involving vehicles, refuse, structures and wild land.
Haskins claimed that while responding to the 981 fires, he was exposed to the following substances: diesel truck fumes (including methylene chloride), pesticides and herbicides, soot, hydrogen sulfide, products of combustion (including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)), creosote, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), cadmium, and burning plastic, tar, rubber, tires and car batteries. Haskins also recalled being exposed to asbestos from the floor tiles in his first station house and from burning attic insulation in some house fires.
Beyond the exposures in the field, Haskins was constantly exposed to exhaust fumes from the engine trucks traveling to and from calls, and the fumes that could be smelled in the sleeping areas of the station house prior to the addition of separate bedrooms in the late 1990s. In addition, Haskins, who was a non-smoker, was exposed to secondhand smoke in the station house before such smoking was banned in the late 1980s.
Haskins was diagnosed with prostate cancer in October 2007, when he was 51 years old. In September 2010, he went on industrial leave and applied for a service-connected disability retirement in March 2011. When his request was denied, he appealed through the California court system.
The California Court of Appeals upheld the rejection of Haskins’ claim. California has a “presumptive causation” law that if a firefighter who has completed five years or more of service develops cancer, “the cancer so developing or manifesting itself in those cases shall be presumed to arise out of and in the course of employment…The presumption is disputable and may be controverted by evidence that the carcinogen to which the member has demonstrated exposure is not reasonably linked to the disabling cancer, provided that the primary site of the cancer has been established. Unless so controverted, the board is bound to find in accordance with the presumption.”
The Court found that the County had successfully rebutted the presumption that Haskins’ cancer arose out of his job. The Court noted that “for each of the potential exposures to which Haskins testified, a doctor provided medical evidence, via medical studies, to show the particular exposure was not reasonably linked to prostate cancer. The two tables from the 2006 study by Schottenfeld, which list the known target organs for substances and mixtures that have been evaluated by the IARC as definite and possible human carcinogens address each of these exposures and none are cited as a cause of prostate cancer.
“The doctor did not believe the epidemiological studies provided good or convincing evidence that firefighters are at increased risk of prostate cancer compared to the general non-firefighting male population, and any claim that a specific job is associated with prostate cancer is seriously undermined by the fact that the Schottenfeld study shows that no IARC group 1 or group 2A carcinogens have the prostate as a target organ.
“We agree with the trial court that this showing is sufficient to demonstrate Haskins’s work-related carcinogenic exposures are not reasonably linked to the development of his prostate cancer. The trial court reasonably could find that the link between these exposures and prostate cancer could not be logically inferred because the link was unlikely.”
Haskins v. Kern County Employees’ Retirement Association, 2015 WL 5682424 (Cal. App. 2015).