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Fire union head applauds creation of national firefighter cancer registry

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- Recent research has shown that firefighters have a higher risk of being diagnosed with certain types of cancer. This week, President Donald Trump signed into law an order requiring the creation of a voluntary registry to collect data on cancer incidence among firefighters. 

Paul Doughty, a Providence firefighter on the city's squad of arson investigators, and the president of the city's chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters union said Wednesday he's excited to see fire departments getting help tracking the issue.

Doughty's hope is that a correlation can be found, better treatment can follow, and one day, firefighters might be prevented from getting some cancers that could potentially have been exacerbated while they were fighting fires.

This registry "is a way for us really to begin to address this in an evidence-based way," said Doughty. "There are some ideas that we have, but we're looking to have all of those ideas really fleshed out and supported by evidence."

Doughty said the prevalence of cancer in firefighters is twice that of the normal population. One theory for this that has spread through departments, he said, is that as more buildings have used plastics in construction materials, such material can get into the air and onto firefighters' bodies.

A growing trend is to have firefighters wash gear and shower liberally, in efforts to keep toxins from building up on the skin.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, also said earlier this year that research has found a strong connection between firefighting and an increased risk for several major cancers including testicular, stomach, multiple myeloma and brain cancers. The Democrat said firefighters are exposed to a range of harmful toxins such as asbestos and flame retardants that are linked to cancer.

Some of the research frequently cited comes from a major study commissioned by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which looked at almost 30,000 career firefighters and which had diagnoses or deaths due to various types of cancers.

However, researchers stressed that even though likelihood may be increased, the research does not mean that firefighters are certain to get cancer, and does not mean that firefighters' service caused their cancer.

The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2018 says the registry will be managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and will make epidemiological information available to health researchers.


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