Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2017 (H.R. 931)

It’s no surprise that some professions come with a higher rate of cancer diagnoses than others and registries are becoming a common way to study this issue. While registries like the Veterans Affairs’ “Burn Pit Registry” seeks to document an occurrence of an occupational hazard, there is no question that our nation’s firefighters are frequently exposed to smoke, chemicals, and other fire-related hazards. This bill will set up a registry to collect, compile, and analyze the actual rate of cancer among firefighters. There are state registries already, but just like we learn in high school statistics class, the larger the pool of information, the more accurate your analysis will be.

The owner of this registry, so-to-speak, will be the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS Secretary) but will be carried out with the help of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). This registry will be used to make and improve current actions which study cancer diagnoses in firefighters. The information will be collected, put into a more simple format for study, stored, and then released as public information… don’t worry though, all personal identifying information will be removed before public release. This is pretty standard and a no-brainer.

The bill suggests things that should be reported in the registry, such as:

  1. Some sort of identifying information (this helps keep information consolidated and avoid duplicate entries)
  2. Age of firefighter
  3. Position (volunteer, paid-on-call, or career)
  4. Number of years on the job and all other job information prior to, during, or after service
  5. The number of fires attended (or an estimate if not available) and the type of building (residential vs commercial)
  6. Other risk factors to include smoking or other drug use
  7. Physical exam and medical history that is related to the cancer diagnosis

Because this is a national registry, it will be given the ability to link to State registries in order to get information like the date of the diagnosis, source of that information, and details on the type and stage of cancer.

The HHS Secretary is directed to create a plan to “maximize participation” from all demographics of firefighters. Who knows what plan that could be. I get mail every few months to remind me to continue my participation in a Veteran-related study. It usually includes some sort of trinket and a thank you note. The plan should also state a minimum target for participation as being included in the registry will be voluntary. After all, what good is a study if only 5% of the people eligible actually participate? A formula should be created to standardize estimations of how many fires were attended if exact numbers aren’t available. The Secretary is also directed to seek feedback from non-Federal experts (like cancer doctors, public health experts, actual firefighters, etc) on how the information should be used and how the registry can be improved. Finally, the information will be required to be made public in a format that does not include personal identifying information and with no cost to anyone who wishes to view it.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that this will cost about $10 million to create and maintain between fiscal years 2018 – 2022. This bill gives the registry $2.5 million each fiscal year for a total of $12.5 million by the end of 2022. It passed in the House of Representatives by a voice vote on September 12, 2017 and will be sent to the Senate for approval.

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