Bill Would Create Cancer Registry for Firefighters

WASHINGTON – Firefighters contract cancer 14% more often than other people because of the toxins they’re exposed to on the job, according to congressional lawmakers who want to establish a registry to track those cancer cases.

Legislation unveiled Tuesday would create a National Firefighter Cancer Registry and direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track the types of cancers contracted by volunteer and professional firefighters.

Studying, quantifying and understanding cancer risks for firefighters could lead to better methods of prevention, said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., one of the bill’s authors.

Menendez said research on 9/11 first responders who developed cancer already has proven a link between those cases and toxins at Ground Zero.

“And while that was an extraordinary and tragic event that continues to take lives, there’s been little attention given to a firefighter’s routine and daily exposure to dangerous toxins during the course of their entire career,’’ ’’ Menendez said.

The one major study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health(NIOSH) — which lawmakers cited Tuesday — covered about 30,000 career firefighters in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. It found higher rates of many types of cancer among the firefighters, but was limited by its sample size and under-representation of some groups, according to Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.

Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., who developed the idea for the registry after talking to a local cancer survivor, said, “We know there are 84,000 different chemicals, many of which didn’t exist years ago.”

House fires can expose firefighters to deadly, flammable chemicals such as synthetics used in living room couches and cleaning fluids under a kitchen sink.

Hanna’s inspiration for the legislation came from Brian McQueen, past chief of the Whitesboro Volunteer Fire Department, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December 2013. After his physicians linked McQueen’s cancer to his more than three decades as a volunteer firefighter, McQueen developed an educational program in central New York to alert others to the potential dangers.

“My passion is to provide cancer education to firefighters across the Northeast, especially throughout New York State,’’ McQueen said. “This actually started when Congressman Hanna attended one of our cancer prevention programs at his home fire department in Barneveld, N.Y. I sat down with him after the program and told him there’s no data. That’s why we’re here today.’’

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