Occupational Cancer Legislation
Generally, in the case of work-related illness or injury, the burden is placed on the worker to prove their ailment is a result of occupational exposures. With the advent of presumptive legislation, that burden shifts; the employer must prove that the firefighter’s working conditions were not a significant contributing factor to the development of cancer. With presumptive legislation, the line-of-duty claim, and subsequent benefits, can be automatically approved as long as the specific criteria are met under the state’s regulations.
A majority of states now cover firefighters for one or more cancers under workers’ compensation because of presumptive legislation. In many states, the presumptive legislation contains broad or nonspecific language that can be interpreted to cover any cancer experienced by a firefighter. In other states, only specific cancers are covered. Most commonly those are leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, brain cancer, bladder cancer, and gastrointestinal cancer.
In states where presumptive legislation has been implemented, records of occupational exposure have played an often-critical role in ensuring a diagnosis of cancer is covered by workers’ compensation. This underscores the importance of agency-wide, comprehensive exposure tracking systems. At a minimum, firefighters can, and should, maintain a record of their own individual exposures.
H.R. 931 would establish that the Secretary of Health and Human Services, acting through the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shall develop and maintain a voluntary registry of firefighters to collect relevant history and occupational information that can be linked to available cancer registry data collected by existing state cancer registries.
This legislation was named after James Zadroga, a New York Police Department officer who developed and died from cancer-related to toxic exposures encountered during response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This bill was passed by Congress in 2010, was signed by President Obama in 2011, and was reauthorized in 2015 with coverage guaranteed through 2090. The law provides funding for first responders and survivors who experience health complications due to the terrorist attacks.
Presumptive Legislation for Firefighter Cancer by State
A total of 33 states cover firefighters for one or more cancers under workers’ compensation as a result of presumption legislation. In 20 of these states, the language in the presumption legislation contains broad or nonspecific language that can be interpreted to cover any cancer experienced by a firefighter. In the other 13 states, only certain specific cancers are covered, most commonly leukemia (12 states), brain cancer (10 states), bladder cancer (9 states), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (9 states), and gastrointestinal cancer (8 states).
The law as interpreted in Virginia:
Leukemia or pancreatic, prostate, rectal, throat, ovarian or breast cancer causing the death of, or any health condition or impairment resulting in total or partial disability of, any volunteer or salaried firefighter, Department of Emergency Management hazardous materials officer, commercial vehicle enforcement officer or motor carrier safety trooper employed by the Department of State Police, or full-time sworn member of the enforcement division of the Department of Motor Vehicles having completed 12 years of continuous service who has a contact with a toxic substance encountered in the line-of-duty shall be presumed to be an occupational disease, suffered in the line-of-duty, that is covered by this title, unless such presumption is overcome by a preponderance of competent evidence to the contrary. For the purposes of this section, a “toxic substance” is one which is a known or suspected carcinogen, as defined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and which causes, or is suspected to cause, leukemia or pancreatic, prostate, rectal, throat, ovarian or breast cancer.
Written by the First Responder Center For Excellence