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Bill expanding Oregon firefighter cancer protections heads to governor's desk

House Bill 4113 expands workers compensation to address gaps in coverage for firefighters who are diagnosed with occupational cancers.

SALEM, Ore. — On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously approved House Bill 4113, a measure that adds bladder and female reproductive cancers as occupational diseases for firefighters under Oregon's workers' compensation law. 

Representative Dacia Grayber is chief sponsor of the bill and introduced the legislation to build upon existing protections. She has worked as a firefighter for 22 years. Her husband, who is also a firefighter, is a cancer survivor. 

"There are very few things more traumatizing to a firefighter, a firefighting family, than the words 'you have cancer.' It turns your whole world upside down," she said. "For the families that will have to face this, this is one step that could make it just a little bit easier."

Cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters, with research suggesting firefighters are at a higher risk of certain types of cancers when compared with the general population. 

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Oregon's workers compensation law already protects them for many kinds of work-related cancers, including male reproductive cancers. House Bill 4113 expands worker compensation to address gaps in coverage for firefighters, adding bladder and female reproductive cancers to that list.

Representative Grayber explained younger firefighters are being diagnosed more frequently with bladder cancer, and as the field pushes for more equity and diversity, it was important this legislation cover female reproductive cancers. Currently, there are fewer than 300 female career firefighters in the state of Oregon.

"Cancer... is a slow motion explosion," Grayber said. It's these cumulative effects that you face as a firefighter and whether that's coming from the gear we wear, the toxins we're exposed to, the lifestyle, being up 24 hours — there's a lot. We're trying to figure out more about why are we getting sick, but it's cumulative and when you are at the funeral of someone who is 49 years old and died of brain cancer, it's absolutely gut wrenching."

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