New $4 million grant helps firefighters battling cancer

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Occupational-related cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters. In early 2022, occupational exposure as a firefighter was classified as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

A new $4 million grant from the Arizona Board of Regents will offer the statewide firefighting community new hope in the battle against cancer. Through a recently approved Regents’ Research Grant, the University of Arizona will lead a study, in partnership with the Arizona Fire Chiefs Association and Arizona State University. It will target enrolling 1,500 Arizona firefighters to test the effectiveness of whether blood or plasma donations lower cancer-causing “forever chemicals” known as PFAS levels.

We spoke to ASU Regent Fred DuVal and Scottsdale Fire Department Chief Tom Shannon about the grant.

Hazards for firefighters

Earlier this year, occupational exposure as a firefighter was classified as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. This is a change from the previous classification as possibly carcinogenic. The reclassification came after many new studies, including several led by the University of Arizona Health Sciences. 

Firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population. “This grant and the research it will fund are beacons of hope for our firefighters,” Shannon, said. “Our great hope is that it will improve life outcomes for our firefighters.”

Regents’ Research Grants

Regents’ Research Grants were established to address and deliver solutions to critical issues facing the state of Arizona and its citizens. Additionally, the grants are funded by Technology and Research Initiative Funds, established through Prop. 301 and utilizing sales tax revenues. TRIF funds vital research in public health, water, national security systems, workforce development and other key areas at Arizona’s public universities. 

The fiscal year 2023 Regents’ Research Grants also fund research partnerships between the universities and the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management and the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

“These grants are designed to accomplish research to benefit the people of Arizona, to give them a return on investment from their hard-earned tax dollars. This round of grants addresses critical issues that are affecting Arizonans today from preserving our state’s forests to cooling desert cities in an era of rising temperatures. I appreciate the strong collaboration between our state agencies and fire partners and look forward to research results that improve quality of life for Arizonans,” said Regent DuVal.

Fred DuVal/Regent, ASU & Tom Shannon/President, Arizona Fire Chiefs Assn and Scottsdale Fire Department Chief

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