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Schumer calls for national registry of firefighter cancers

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) holds a news conference

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) holds a news conference at FDNY Engine 39 in Manhattan on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016. With Schumer, from left, are Uniformed Fire Officers Association treasurer James McCarthy, trustee Vincent Speciale and association president James LeMonda. Credit: Steven Sunshine

A registry of cancers specifically afflicting the nation’s firefighters — with epidemiological information from health care professionals and anonymous data available to top public health researchers — would help “smoke out” the deadly diseases, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday.

New York’s senior senator visited FDNY Engine 39 on the Upper East Side where he pushed legislation to create the database, citing firefighters’ increased exposure to harmful toxins found in flame retardants in certain furniture and clothing. The costs associated with the registry would be in the low millions, Schumer’s office said.

Schumer’s discussion of cancers among first responders comes as the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches.

“We want to smoke out some of the cancers that affect the Bravest,” said the Democrat, using a moniker for New York City firefighters and likening their work to the “domestic version of our soldiers” who rush into danger to protect others.

Schumer’s office cited a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study that found twice as many U.S. firefighters suffer from malignant mesothelioma — caused in part by exposure to asbestos — when compared to the general population.

Firefighters who toiled in the “toxic stew” at Ground Zero in the wake of 9/11 had higher rates of cancer, said Uniformed Fire Officers Association president James LeMonda, who stood alongside Schumer at the news conference.

LeMonda said firefighters asked Schumer to promote the bill.

The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act is co-sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey). It was introduced by Rep. Richard Hanna, a Republican who represents central New York, and Schumer noted it has bipartisan support.

If the measure passes, the registry could be active by January, Schumer said. It would have ample participation because it would be voluntary and the information anonymous to protect privacy, he said, adding it would be managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency, which administers the National Program of Cancer Registries with data representing 96 percent of the general population, did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.

Thousands of Long Island firefighters would benefit from the bill, Schumer’s office said.

Newer plastics found in sofas, children’s pajamas and other materials have made firefighting more hazardous to first responders’ health, Schumer said.

LeMonda agreed.

“The chemistry of fire over the years has changed,” LeMonda said. “The introduction of hydrocarbons has produced a more dangerous atmosphere, an atmosphere in which we operate every single day. The hydrocarbons are carcinogens.”