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Minn. fire stations set to receive saunas to help study occupational cancer

Researchers hope to collect at least 30 sweat samples from St. Paul firefighters to test for carcinogens


Almost every fire station in St. Paul will soon have its own sauna.


Frederick Melo
Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Almost every fire station in St. Paul will soon have its own sauna, and researchers will jump on the opportunity to collect some firefighter sweat.

Once the infrared saunas are installed, experts hope to collect at least 30 sweat samples to test them for carcinogens.

“This study will be completely novel, as no one has looked for carcinogens in sweat in this way,” said Dr. Zeke McKinney, an affiliate professor at the University of Minnesota and HealthPartners researcher, addressing the St. Paul City Council on Wednesday.

“Firefighters have an increased risk of all cancers compared to the general population, as well as very specific cancers,” he said.

Following his presentation, the council accepted the gift of 13 saunas from the nonprofit St. Paul Fire Foundation, a total value of $72,800. The goal was initially to help firefighters “rid their bodies of dangerous, potentially cancer-causing toxins” that could enter through the skin or be inhaled while fighting fires.

Language about “cancer-causing toxins” was removed from the ordinance before the council voted to accept the donation.

At the very least, the saunas could help reduce the smoky smell that lingers on a person after a fire, and no one can argue that a sauna isn’t good for the mind and body.

“There is immense scientific evidence about health benefits of saunas, mostly cardiovascular benefits,” McKinney said.

The council voted 5-0 to accept the gift. Council President Amy Brendmoen and Dai Thao were absent.

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