Sen. Chuck Schumer announced legislation Wednesday to create a nationwide volunteer registry to track forms of cancer among paid and volunteer firefighters who are exposed to harmful toxins when responding to emergencies.
At a news conference at the Garden City Fire Department, Schumer cited statistics that show firefighters when compared with the general population have a higher risk of contracting mesothelioma, typically from exposure to asbestos, as well as lung, pancreatic, stomach, testicular and brain cancers.
Schumer said there has never been a registry to track the links between firefighting and incidences of cancer.
“There is a connection between firefighting and an increased risk, almost double the normal risk, for certain types of major cancers,” Schumer said.
Schumer cited research showing that chemicals typically found in products such as furniture, clothing and children’s toys can become harmful when they burn, sending toxins airborne.
Schumer said officials learned about the airborne carcinogens that firefighters are exposed to after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as an unusually high number of first responders contracted esophageal, pancreatic and lung cancer.
He said medical professionals need more information to identify the most dangerous chemicals and to treat sick firefighters.
The proposed registry would be managed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which would gather in one location information submitted by health care professionals.
The registry, while available to the public, would include no names, and firefighters could choose not to participate. The cost of the database would be “small,” Schumer said, because the CDC conducts such research routinely.
Schumer said the registry could lead to new safety protocols for firefighters and groundbreaking treatment to combat cancer.
“This registry is the first step in giving researchers the critical data needed to help develop the most effective treatment against these cancers and to hopefully design the most advanced equipment to protect firefighters from exposure to these deadly toxins we face on a daily basis,” said T.J. Michon, president of the Garden City Professional Firefighters union.
The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act is co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). A House version is sponsored by Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld).
The measure must first clear the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions which has yet to schedule a hearing. Schumer said if Congress passes the bill before leaving for October recess, the registry could be operating by January.