The bipartisan Firefighter Cancer Registry Act became law in July and created a national cancer registry for firefighters diagnosed with the deadly disease

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) joined Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and over 30 other senators in requesting full funding for the Firefighter Cancer Registry. The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act was signed into law in July 2018 and requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to collect the number and type of fire incidents in connection to firefighters who receive a cancer diagnosis—helping doctors and researchers to study the relationship between firefighting and an increased risk for the deadly disease. Although $2.5 million was authorized for the registry, the full amount was not appropriated last August. In a bipartisan letter to Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, the senators requested the full authorization amount for the registry within the Fiscal Year 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill.

“Full funding for the Firefighter Cancer Registry is critical in order to create a national registry that represents the different types of firefighters and fires across our Country, including volunteer, paid-on-call, and career firefighters,” the senators wrote. “Full funding is also necessary to create the IT system that will support the registry, allow firefighters to share their data, allow researchers to access the data and, most importantly, to keep all of this personal data secure.”

“It is critical that the CDC be able to collect the data necessary to complete more precise studies on the occupational risks of firefighters. Once completed, the registry will help researchers, stakeholders and others, advance the research into cancer risks for our nation’s first responders and provide a clearer and more comprehensive picture of the causal links between firefighting and cancer,” they continued.

Firefighters are exposed to a range of harmful toxins, and research has indicated that there is a strong connection between firefighting and an increased risk for several major cancers such as testicular, stomach, multiple myeloma and brain cancers. The registry improves collection capabilities and activities related to the nationwide monitoring of cancer incidence among all firefighters – career and volunteer – and could potentially lead to the development of more sophisticated safety protocols and safeguards for firefighters. Specifically, the registry stores and consolidates epidemiological information submitted by health care professionals related to cancer incidence among firefighters and provides public health researchers with comprehensive, de-identified datasets to expand groundbreaking research. The registry’s administrators are required to consult regularly with epidemiologists, public health experts, clinicians, and firefighters. 

The legislation received the support from several major fire organizations, including the National Volunteer Fire Council, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the Congressional Fire Services Institute, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, and the International Fire Services Training Association.

In recent years, Klobuchar has travelled the state meeting with firefighters and promoting the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act. She has also been a leader in the fight to protect people from harmful carcinogens. In February 2018, Klobuchar and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act, which was signed into law as part of the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. The legislation created a Center of Excellence in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) focused on researching the health effects associated with burn pits and treating veterans who become sick after exposure. In 2010, Klobuchar along with Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) passed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act that directed the EPA to establish national standards for formaldehyde emissions in new composite wood products.

Smith also cosponsored the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act and the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act. She was recently a keynote speaker at the International Association of Fire Fighters’ 2019 legislative conference where she stressed the importance of removing the stigma of mental health. Smith is also a supporter of the Social Security Fairness Act which helps firefighters and other public safety employees get their full Social Security benefits.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Chairman Blunt and Ranking Member Murray:

As the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies considers appropriations for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20), we respectfully request that the Committee fund the Firefighter Cancer Registry run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the authorized level of $2.5 million. 

As you know, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2018 was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate before being signed into law by the President on July 7, 2018. This legislation directed the CDC to develop and maintain a national, voluntary registry of firefighters to track workplace information and determine the incidence of cancer.  Subsequently, the Firefighter Cancer Registry was partially funded in Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) after the Senate unanimously supported an amendment to H.R. 6157 the Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act that directed $1 million to the CDC to establish the Registry.

Congress intended, and stakeholders expect, that the Firefighter Cancer Registry be representative of the entire Country.  Full funding for the Firefighter Cancer Registry is critical in order to create a national registry that represents the different types of firefighters across our Country, including volunteer, paid-on-call, and career firefighters.  Full funding is also necessary to create the IT system that will support the registry, allow firefighters to share their data, allow researchers to access the data and, most importantly, to keep all of this personal data secure.  Without full funding, the Firefighter Cancer Registry will not represent the entire country, potentially be insecure and not be able to begin enrolling firefighters over the coming fiscal year, thereby frustrating Congressional intent and failing our nation’s firefighters.

According to a 2015 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, firefighters in the United States have a greater number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths than the general population.  This is especially true for digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers, and malignant mesothelioma.  Unfortunately, small sample sizes and a lack of important data such as other occupational information and additional risk factors have limited the exactitude of these studies. 

It is critical that the CDC be able to collect the data necessary to complete more precise studies on the occupational risks of firefighters.  Once completed, the registry will help researchers, stakeholders and others, advance the research into cancer risks for our nation’s first responders and provide a clearer and more comprehensive picture of the causal links between firefighting and cancer.  The absence of full funding for the Firefighter Cancer Registry would inhibit the CDC’s data collection abilities.  This could lead to unnecessary illness and death.

With this in mind, we respectfully request your support in this funding request for the full authorization level of $2.5 million for the Firefighter Cancer Registry within the FY20 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill and thank the Committee for supporting last year’s amendment during the FY19 appropriations process.  Full funding will ensure we build on the good work that is occurring at the CDC and funding already spent to establish this critical public health tool.

Sincerely,

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