New bills introduced in Congress and the Minnesota Legislature this month are meant to learn more about the links between firefighting and certain types of cancer.
Both Republicans and Democrats have lined up behind the push to create a firefighters cancer registry.
Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, one of the co-sponsors of the U.S. Senate bill was at a Minneapolis fire station Monday to talk about why she thinks it's needed.
It's no secret that firefighters are often exposed to smoke that contains soot, chemicals, and toxic stuff.
But right now there aren't a lot of numbers for scientists to use to document the connection between those toxins and cancers that firefighters get.
One of the few solid studies came out last year after the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health studied firefighters in three cities for five years. They confirmed that firefighters had higher rates of certain cancers than the general population did – especially mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to asbestos.
State and national registries
The proposed registries for firefighters would be voluntary and the firefighters would remain anonymous. But the information about their cancer cases would go into databases that researchers could use.
Klobuchar tells FOX 9 a national registry would cost about $2.5 million to set up.
It could include information about people like St. Paul Fire Captain Steve Shapira, a 17-year veteran of the department who's fighting non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Shapira tells WCCO that after 28 months of chemotherapy his medical debts amount to five figures but he does not qualify for worker's comp because the city won't agree that the cancer is work related.
Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, who co-authored the House bill for a national registry, said in a statement the information could lead to better protective equipment and maybe even changes in firefighting techniques to improve safety. His House bill has 76 co-sponsors.
Klobuchar and fellow Minnesotan Al Franken are among 12 co-sponsors in the Senate.
FOX 9 says right now 11 states have firefighter cancer registries.
Rep. Peggy Bennett of Albert Lea has introduced a House bill that would create one for Minnesota. Albert Lea Radio reports three firefighters in that city's department developed cancer with a year, including one who died of brain cancer at age 51.