Senator Chuck Schumer has been championing a bill for the past several years that would change the way we collect and analyze data pertaining to cancer amongst firefighters. The bill, which he sponsored, passed in the Senate, and now Schumer is urging the lower chamber to do its part in protecting our first responders, both volunteer and professional. If passed, the measure would improve the quality of data collection and activities pertaining to firefighter-related cancer, setting up a national registry that would be maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health conducted a study over the course of five years and found some disturbing results in the process. Firefighters, according to the study, are twice as much as likely to get mesothelioma – a cancer caused by asbestos – than the average population. Moreover, relative to the average person, firefighters are far more likely to die from leukemia and lung cancer.
Schumer spoke about this very serious problem: “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.” He continued, “This critical legislation does just that by establishing a national firefighter cancer registry, so researchers can better track, treat – and one day – prevent the potential connections between firefighting and cancer.”
According to the Senator, firefighters have an increased risk of certain cancers, including testicular, multiple myeloma, brain and stomach cancers. Firefighters may inhale dangerous chemicals when entering a burning building, as many everyday products contain noxious flame-retardant substances that can lead to serious health issues. Sofas, toys and an array of other commodities can contain these substances, which can become airborne when aflame.
Years in the Making
Schumer was the original co-sponsor on the bill. In 2016, he spoke to a group of firefighters at Syracuse Fire Department’s Station 5, pledging his support for their health and wellbeing. One firefighter, Mike Valenti, president of Firefighter Cancer Foundation of New York, spoke about his own experience: “Our job is killing us,” he said.
Likely to Pass in the House
Not long after the Senate passed its version of the firefighter bill, Representative Chris Collins announced the imminent passage of an amended version in the House. A similar bill passed in the House last September but didn’t succeed in the Senate, where it has been amended.
Details of the Bill
The registry, if approved, would do at least four things, according to a press release on Schumer’s website. It would:
- Centralize all the epidemiological information that has been collected by medical professionals and that pertains to firefighter-related cancer
- Make available anonymous data, so researchers can have more data to work with when studying this phenomenon
- Improve our knowledge of firefighter-related cancer events and thus set the groundwork for concrete safety protocols for first responders in the field
- Increase collaborative efforts involving all related parties, including epidemiologists, firefighters, CDC researchers, public health policy makers and clinicians.
If passed the bill would give $2.5 million to the CDC to implement the registry.
Protect and Serve
Senator Sherrod Brown (Ohio), who wrote the bill, has been pushing for safer firefighting protocols. “Public health people tell me they can gather enough data to make some recommendations down the road, maybe two to three years down the road, to make this already dangerous profession slightly safer for the people who serve us,” he said. “They protect us, they serve us,” he said, continuing, “We need to protect and serve them in any way we can.”
In Charlotte, Mary Tinsley lost her a husband, Seth Tinsley, a firefighter who developed a tumor the size of a fist in his brain and who died of cancer. If this bill passes, many other firefighters could be spared this tragic end.