WASHINGTON, D.C. - Following up on what she called a disappointing response from the Bush Administration, Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) today called on John Howard, Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, to commence a study on the risk of cancer among firefighters. Senator Mikulski sent a similar request to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt in January 2006, after a Johns Hopkins University study focused on Anne Arundel County firefighters yielded inconclusive results.
"Supporting our first responders is about more than turn-out gear and fire trucks. That is why this research is so important - it could potentially save lives," wrote Senator Mikulski. "Firefighters and their families already understand the hazards of being on the job. I believe they have the right to know the potential health hazards of simply reporting for duty."
The text of the letter is below:
John Howard, M.D., M.P.H., J.D., LL.M.
Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Hubert H. Humphrey Bldg.
200 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20201
Dear Dr. Howard:
I am writing to urge you to conduct a study on the risk of cancer faced by firefighters.
On January 26, 2006 I sent a letter to Secretary Leavitt of the Department of Health and Human Services regarding this issue. I was disappointed with the Administration's response. However, I understand that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is the primary federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related illness and injury. My constituents have a right to be heard. I look forward to working with you on this important matter.
In 2004, the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health conducted a study to determine if identified cancer clusters among firefighters in Anne Arundel County, Maryland could have been caused by carcinogenic compounds they were exposed to during training exercises. The study concluded that compared to the general public, firefighters with greater exposure to fires have higher risks of cancer. However, they were unable to identify the specific risk firefighters may have for cancer and other diseases. Additional research, including a formal epidemiological study, was recommended. This may not be limited to Maryland firefighters. Additional research into this important issue could potentially save lives.
There are over one million firefighters in the United States, of which 750,000 are volunteers. These brave men and women are our true heroes. Every day they make personal sacrifices to save lives, save homes, and save communities. Over the years I have worked tirelessly to get our firefighters the equipment they need to do their job safer and smarter. But supporting our first responders is about more than turn-out gear and fire trucks. That is why this research is so important. Firefighters and their families already understand the hazards of being on the job, whether it is rushing into a burning building or responding to a chemical spill. I believe they have the right to know the potential health hazards of simply reporting for duty.
I look forward to working with you to ensure that our firefighters are protected. We need to do all we can to protect our first responders, so they can protect us. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.