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Firefighter cancer tracking legislation gains Senate approval

Legislation to create a nationwide database tracking forms of cancer among career and volunteer firefighters who are exposed to harmful toxins when responding to emergencies is one step closer to passage.

The Senate has approved the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.). The bill passed the House in September, and an amended version cleared the Senate last week.

The registry, managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, would allow experts and researchers to monitor national cancer trends among firefighters.

“We owe it to our brave firefighters who are on the front lines, risking their lives to protect our communities, the peace of mind of knowing that if they get sick they will be taken care of,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a backer of the registry.

A five-year study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found double the number of firefighters in the United States with malignant mesothelioma — a form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos — as compared with the general population. The study also found firefighters have a higher risk of death from lung cancer and leukemia.

Schumer, who in 2016 announced his backing of a Senate bill to create a registry, said Monday that firefighters are exposed to harmful chemicals, often found in products such as furniture, clothing and children’s toys. The products can become harmful when they burn, sending toxic substances airborne.

Schumer said medical professionals need the database to develop safety protocols for firefighters.

The registry, while available to the public, would include no names, and firefighters could choose not to participate.

The bill now goes back to the House for a final vote.

Correction: Legislation passed by the Senate last week creating a national cancer firefighter registry originated as a House bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.). The legislation passed the House unanimously in September and an amended version passed the Senate last week. A May 15 story did not identify the bill’s original House sponsor.