Firefighter Database Could Aid Mesothelioma and Other Cancer Research

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

U.S. Senator Gary Peters, D-Michigan, co-sponsored legislation to create a national registry to monitor cancer diagnosis in firefighters. The bill is supported by several firefighter organizations, including the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Congressional Fire Services Institute, and the Michigan Chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

“Firefighters are exposed to potentially harmful toxins every day as they work to protect our homes, businesses, and communities,” said President of the Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union Mark Docherty.

Cancer is now the number one killer of firefighters. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, two-thirds of those with a firefighting career will develop cancer either on the job or after retirement. This is compared to only 20% of the general public. A Centers for Disease Control study also revealed similar findings.

Malignant mesothelioma, caused by asbestos exposure, is one of the top cancer types firefighters are at risk of developing. According to the International Association of Fire Fighters, almost 60% of firefighters will die from one of these deadly cancers caused by environmental factors of exposure while on the job.

“By learning more about the risks firefighters face in the line of duty, we can improve on-the-job safety and help prevent and treat the life-threatening illnesses and health consequences they are more likely to face down the road,” said Docherty.

According to Peters, “Creating this voluntary registry is a good step toward determining the unique risks to firefighters’ health.”

“This information will allow us to research preventative techniques and design better protective equipment for our first responders, as well as develop advanced, effective medical treatments to provide the best care to firefighters diagnosed with cancer,” said Peters.

“In the old days, we used to just worry about common products—burning wood, cotton, and those types of things,” said Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik. “Nowadays with fire, we have so many of the new products, with synthetics and the petroleums, that the fires burn a lot differently.”

“To be honest with you, in many cases we do not know what is being generated because of the combination of the materials and the heat generated and how the product decomposes—so cancer is starting to become a huge issue for firefighters,” said Cieslik.

“This bill was introduced in February of this year and was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions,” said Press Secretary for Senator Peters Allison Green.

Databases like this one, combined with the Collaborative Cancer Cloud, could make a big difference in finding cures for cancer.

This is all timely news as May is Cancer Research Month.