WASHINGTON, D.C.—Three decades after health advocates brought to the world's attention the serious risks associated with being on fire, a report released Monday by U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona purports that secondhand exposure to those ablaze could prove equally as deadly.
"We now know that individuals engulfed in flames not only pose a danger to themselves, but to everyone else around them," Carmona said. "While severe irritation of the eyes, throat, face, arms, and legs is common among those not on fire themselves, prolonged contact can also cause irreparable damage to bodily organs, most frequently the skin."
"Be it the increased chance of heart attacks, malignant growths that rapidly swell and blister over the surface of the flesh, or simply a burning sensation, secondhand fire is not something to be taken lightly," Carmona added. "It can, and often does, significantly affect one's quality of life."
According to the report, exposure to secondhand fire, or "passive burning," as it is also known, for as little as two minutes can take 80 years off one's life. Statistics show that senior citizens with dry skin, young children who are smaller and consequently take less time to burn, and men and women covered in flammable liquids are most at risk. Chronic asthma sufferers were shown to have their condition drastically worsen within seconds.
"Hundreds of Americans die prematurely each year from flame-related illnesses," said Brian McMillen, who in 1995 lost his wife and half his home to secondhand fire and is now the executive director of Americans Against Involuntary Scorching. "I've watched this silent killer take healthy men and women full of vigor and render them unrecognizable, reducing them to mere skeletons of their former selves before my very eyes."
In response to the findings, smelting plants and fireworks distributors across the nation have introduced harsher workplace restrictions on those in flames, requiring that they extinguish themselves immediately, and even barring them from their establishments altogether. This comes as welcome news to customers and coworkers who have long complained about working around people who are burning.
"There's nothing worse than being trapped in a room all day with a bunch of people blowing red-hot embers and charred fragments of bone in your face," said New Jersey pyrotechnician Heather Benart, who spends several hours each night scrubbing the smell of scorched human flesh out of her clothing. "If they want to be on fire in their own homes, that's their business, but they should at least have the decency to stay far away from those of us who don't have a death wish."
Welder's apprentice Kenny George, of Mobile, AL said the workplace should be a safe environment, noting that he has to deal with blazing colleagues several times a week.
"It's unbearable when someone standing right next to me just bursts into flames without thinking twice," George said. "Inconsiderate people like that are so preoccupied with their own little dramas that they don't even realize they're doing harm to others."
Top executives from six of the nation's largest lighter manufacturers, including Zippo, Cricket, and Bic, who in the past have been accused of glamorizing burning and marketing fire to children, issued a joint press release Monday in response to the surgeon general's report, alleging that the study is "just another attempt to vilify the flame industry." The letter also referred to claims that secondhand fire can cause serious harm as "irresponsible and wildly exaggerated."
The most vocal dismissal of the report's findings, however, have come from burners' rights groups, who have claim they have historically felt ostracized by anti-burning ordinances and other fire-control measures. Advocates frequently accuse anti-burners of expressing unreasonable fears and hysteria, a sentiment echoed by James Feig, a 25-second burner who spoke before the Massachusetts Bar Association on Tuesday.
"Aaaaaaarrrrgggghhh—Dear fucking God, no—Aaaaarrrrggghhh," Feig said.