Schumer, local leaders push for national firefighter cancer registry

Feb 22, 2017

After learning about the long-term health effects that touched numerous firefighters who responded to the 9/11 attacks in New York City, lawmakers including Senator Charles Schumer are pushing for passage of a registry that they say will help identify and prevent cancer risks for other firefighters nationwide.

Schumer joined several other elected leaders inside the Buffalo Fire Department's Engine 36/Ladder 13 house on Hertel Avenue to push for passage of a nationwide program that would give firefighters the opportunity to report their cancer cases, on a volunteer and anonymous basis.

With Buffalo mayor Byron Brown standing to one side, Senator Charles Schumer speaks inside a Buffalo Fire hall Wednesday to push for passage of a nationwide firefighter cancer registry that he, and others, say will help save lives and prevent future illnesses among those who take on burning structures.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

"It would monitor incidences of cancer among firefighters, career and volunteer nationwide, and it will give us a big enough sample to understand which chemicals are causing the cancers, and what cancers," Schumer said. "A small sample in Western New York wouldn't be enough but a large sample would."

Schumer says the men and women who respond to calls and enter into burning buildings are no longer taking on fires involving traditional building materials including wood. Updated buildind components that contain plastics, he said, add to the list of potential toxins that raise the risk of exposure to carcinogens. Already, he says, numerous forms of the disease are emerging among firefighters, including stomach, lung and brain cancers.

"There's a connection between firefighting and the increased risk of several of these major cancers," the senator said. 

The registry would be managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As information is gathered and trends are revealed, leaders would be able to use the information to implement protocols and preventive measures, such as banning certain chemicals. 

Schumer explained that after establishing protocols, lawmakers could use the information to pass measures that help affected firefighters get the medical care they need. 

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz joined Schumer in calling for passage of the national registry. Brown praised firefighters for the bravery in handling each response, while he and Poloncarz recalled the recent major fire at the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna that required responses from companies in Buffalo, Lackawanna and other nearby sources.

"We knew there was asbestos in some parts of it. We knew there were other chemicals that were burning because of what was stored in the location. That's what these men and woman do on a daily basis," Poloncarz said.

The proposed registry, Schumer noted, has early bipartisan support.