New database will lead to better protection against the exposure to carcinogens that have been making some firefighters sick.
Firefighters are known to have a higher risk of certain types of cancer compared to the general population. A new law will help medical experts make connections between job-related exposures and higher rates of cancer to protect firefighters’ health better.
On July 9, President Donald Trump signed the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, which calls for a national voluntary database that experts may use to make a link between cancer and firefighting risk factors.
“I can’t think of many priorities more important than protecting the health of America’s firefighters,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, one of the bill’s authors, in a press release. “This will strengthen the safety of the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every single day.”
As you well know, firefighters are frequently exposed to carcinogens as part of their work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These hazards are released into the air when wood, plastics, furniture, electronics or building materials burn. Firefighters can absorb these materials by inhalation, ingestion or through the skin.
The Firefighter Registry will include health and occupational information such as whether a firefighter is a career professional or a volunteer, how many years they’ve worked on the job, and the number and types of calls they’ve responded to.
Presently, studies are limited because they don’t include enough information on women and minorities, and they lack data on volunteer firefighters.
One of the most substantial cancer studies, released in 2015 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), looked at nearly 30,000 firefighters from the Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco Fire Departments. The study used national and state death certificates and information from some state cancer registries to gain a better understanding of the potential links between firefighting and cancer.
The NIOSH study on firefighters found:
- Firefighters have a higher number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths, primarily digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers.
- About twice as many firefighters developed malignant mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
- Certain types of cancers were more often found among younger firefighters. Firefighters under age 65 had more bladder and prostate cancers than expected.
As a result of that study, fire services across the nation were urged to do more to educate members about safe work practices. The study recommended they improve training and enforce the proper use of protective clothing and respiratory protection during all phases of firefighting.
Congress authorized $10 million for the fiscal years 2018-2022 to develop the Firefighter Registry, which will provide more complete and representative information on firefighter exposures and include urban, rural, career and on-call fire departments.
NIOSH will design a confidential and scientifically-valid approach to data collection that will include understudied groups such as women, minorities, and volunteer firefighters. The process will begin by collecting employment records from participating fire departments. These records will be linked with data from state cancer registries to obtain diagnosis information.
Data from the Firefighter Registry will be available to investigators who request it, as well as through scientific publications and communications to the public.
The U.S. Health and Human Services secretary will develop a strategy requiring epidemiologists and pathologists to collaborate on standardized data collection methods.
This registry will include basic demographic information, such as:
- The age of the firefighter involved during the relevant dates of occupation and the time of their cancer diagnosis.
- The status of the firefighter as a volunteer, paid-on-call or career firefighter.
- The total number of years of occupation as a firefighter and details about additional employment experience before or during that occupation.
- The approximate number of fire incidents attended, including information about the type of fire and the role of the firefighter in the event.
- Other medical information and health history, including additional risk factors when appropriate, and other information relevant to a cancer incidence study.
- Date of diagnoses and the source of information.
- Pathological data characterizing cancer, including the cancer site, state of disease (based on a Staging Guide), incidence and type of treatment.
What changes has your fire department made to help protect firefighters against exposure to hazards that could cause cancer? Do you think additional items should be added to the criteria being captured? Share your comments with us on MalteseCrossMagazine.com.
Press Release. “Pascrell, Menendez, NJ Firefighters Celebrate Passage of Firefighter Cancer Registry Act.” July 3, 2018. Retrieved from https://pascrell.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/pascrell-menendez-nj-firefighters-celebrate-passage-of-firefighter
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Findings from a Study of Cancer among U.S. Fire Fighters.” 2016. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/pgms/worknotify/pdfs/ff-cancer-factsheet-final.pdf
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Firefighter Resources, Cancer and Other Illnesses. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/firefighters/health.html
GovTrack. H.R. 931: Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2018. Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr931/text