Shaheen, Hassan Call for Full Funding of the Firefighter Cancer Registry

April 16, 2019

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) joined a group of Senators led by Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) today in requesting $2.5 million to fully fund the Firefighter Cancer Registry, which collects and monitors the prevalence, incidence and types of cancers among firefighters so that doctors and researchers can better understand the relationship between firefighting and the increased risk for the deadly disease. Legislation creating the national registry, which is managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was passed and signed into law last summer.

“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 in a letter to Sens. Blunt and Murray, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. “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.”

A 2015 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that firefighters had a greater number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths for certain types of cancer when compared to the general U.S. population, specifically digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers, and malignant mesothelioma. The study confirmed that firefighters have an increased risk of cancer because of occupational exposure. To bolster the efforts led by researchers at NIOSH, the firefighter cancer registry will improve collection capabilities and activities related to the nationwide monitoring of cancer incidence among all firefighters – both career and volunteer.

“It is critical that the CDC be able to collect the data necessary to complete more precise studies on the occupational risks of firefighters,” the letter continued. “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.”

The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act was first announced in May 2016. Senator Menendez reintroduced the bill in the following Congress, which both Senators Shaheen and Hassan cosponsored.

A senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Shaheen has prioritized funding efforts to combat exposure to emerging contaminants, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and uncover information on the potential health implications. In September, funding legislation approved by Congress was signed into law that appropriates $1 million to implement the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act.

Senator Shaheen has led efforts to specifically address occupational exposure to PFAS chemicals. In December, she sent a letter with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and a group of 21 Senators to the CDC and Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR), requesting that the agencies take additional steps to ensure that the health effects of occupational exposure to PFAS particularly in firefighters, are sufficiently studied. Just last week, Senator Shaheen reintroduced her bipartisan bill with Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), which is cosponsored by Senator Hassan, and would create a national database for service members and veterans experiencing health problems possibly due to contamination from PFAS.

Senator Shaheen, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, established the first-ever nationwide health impact study of PFAS chemicals in drinking water in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. And as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Shaheen secured the necessary funding for the study in government funding bills for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Because of the New Hampshire Congressional Delegation’s efforts, Pease will serve as the model site for the nationwide PFAS health study. 

The letter is also signed by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jack Reed (D-RI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bob Casey (D-PN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Tom Carper (D-DE), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Rob Wyden (D-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

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,