$4 million grant going into research to reduce the risk of cancer in Arizona firefighters
SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Arizona State University, University of Arizona, and firefighters across the state are joining forces on a new $4 million grant. The goal is for university researchers to work with firefighters to reduce occupational-related cancer in firemen and women across Arizona.
Studies find firefighters have a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general population. This alarming number is prompting doctors and researchers to study ways to reduce that number.
“While we are very close to all firefighters, when your nephew battles for four years against a job-related cancer, it clearly brings it home,” City of Scottsdale Fire Chief Tom Shannon said.
Shannon lost his nephew Austin Peck in 2019 to cancer related to his job. He was a fire engineer with Goodyear Fire for 11 years before losing his battle. “To know those cancers came from work and that the work he did put him in a position of having to expose himself to save others, it’s more disheartening,” Shannon said.
Now Shannon is hopeful about a multi-million-dollar grant for researchers from the UArizona and ASU, aiming to reduce the risk of cancer in firefighters. This grant comes from the Arizona Board of Regents. “The best we can do for them is to conduct research like this and find out what it is that might hurt them and avoid it,” Shannon said.
Doctor Jeff Burgess with UArizona is leading the three-year study. He says firefighters from across the state will participate, including Scottsdale Fire. “Those individuals will go to a plasma or blood donation center and donate blood or plasma over the course of a year for that part of the study, and then we measure the PFAS levels again and see how much they’ve dropped,” Burgess said.
PFAS are also known as “forever chemicals,” which could come from firefighters’ equipment, the foam used to put out burning liquids, or burning household items.
Shannon, who has seen firsthand the danger of the job, says protecting those on the frontlines is crucial. “Our men and women deserve the very best of what we can offer them in terms of science, research, and method changes,” Shannon said.
Burgess says he anticipates the funding will come in January, and they will start enrolling firefighters in the statewide study by March to begin testing their blood.
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