Friday, April 16, 2021

Going Global with Firefighters Cancer Advocacy: F.A.C.E.S. 2.0

One year after the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11, I founded the NY Cancer Resource Alliance with my "GET CHECKED NOW!" campaign for the many people I personally knew who were not very proactive about checkups and health monitoring as far as cancers (and there were many).  In my journey with Cousin "Sal" Banchitta (ret FDNY) speaking in firehouses and FF groups about cancer,  my interest was always in finding and reaching more of them. Years of face to face meetings became web conferences- allowing a local initiative to go national rather quickly.

But it wasn't until I met Lt. Chris Conner, president and founder of F.A.C.E.S. (Firefighters Against Cancer & Exposures) that I found the next chapter of my benevolence work.  From Bedford Texas, Chris has been implementing his own version of rescue to firefighters in need (from Cancer) as a charitable fund. Chris was the first FF org to endorse my documentary film "The Fire Still Burns" and supported all of NYCRA's initiatives as far as public outreach, cancer research support, education and all the work that typical cancer orgs do- but targeted to firefighters.

By 2021, Covid changed the shape of fundraising, advocacy and education - forcing everyone to go virtual. This leveraged our cancer networking message (through social media) to connect with doctors and survivors from Italy, the UK, Greece, Russia, Japan, the Netherlands and Italy.

On 3/31, NYCRA kicked off the first Cancer PowerMeet through Zoom and it was a great success. Our first topic was about Occupational Cancers from the Fire Service combining a panel of presenters from the retired FF community + cancer experts.  F.A.C.E.S. was one of our supporters in this as one of the national FF groups that helped us get the word out.

This got the attention of the medical societies and the public service community both domestically and abroad!  Overnight, we racked up hundreds of hits and commenters from many languages. The same global audience for our international cancer publishing is now reading our stuff about firefighters cancer.

In a matter of days, we organically merged 2 platforms together to form F.A.C.E.S. 2.0. (with a new website, www.Facing-Together.org). This brand allowed us to kick off new Firefighter E-events and reach the entire community on a much wider scale.  NYCRA (as in New York) became I.C.R.A. (Integrative Cancer Resource Alliance) the same week- shifting us out of our local platform.  But Chris made thousands of new friends overnight, introduced all our cancer advocates, educators, clinicians and medical researchers plus our combined resources from all the cancer orgs who are all supportive of Firefighters Cancers.

As ALLIANCES go, finding synergy is never easy. But once you do, you can build magic!

Now the work begins!



WHAT IS F.A.C.E.S. ?

The desire to extend a helping hand to those in need is in all of us- especially when someone's health or physical well being is at risk. FIREFIGHTERS lead this spirit of responding to a call for rescue during times of crisis or disaster. BUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A RESPONDER NEEDS HELP?

Leading the global front of this helping hand means searching for all available RESOURCES. FACES bands together as a community to form a solid support resource system between all cancer organizations and firefighter support groups.

FIREFIGHTERS AGAINST CANCER & EXPOSURES ( F.A.C.E.S. ) is founded by Christopher Conner of Bedford, TX. As a first responder, Chris established a community of resources dedicated to helping firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer. Originally established as a charitable foundation, the 2021 version of FACES aligns with the strength of all cancer orgs, cancer resources and first responder groups to collectively bring public support and aid to our heroes in all ways possible. Firefighters and their families dedicate their lives and lifestyles to save others; it is our turn to help them. Heroum Animas Salvas. Save the Lives of Heroes. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Occupational Toxic Exposures from Burn Pits vs. Illnesses from the Fire Service

A BURN PIT is a method of garbage disposal in military bases (identified in Iraq and Afghanistan) where all waste is burned in a large pit in open air using combustible agents such as diesel fuel.  All refuse is incinerated here- from medical and human waste to plastics and rubber to environmental hazards like styrofoam, ammunition petroleum products.  The end result of burning these items + the use of incendiary agents like diesel and jet fuel have resulted in airborne concentrations of black smoke within the immediate area that have been recognized to cause respiratory issues to those exposed.

By January 17, 2019, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard introduced the Burn Pits Accountability Act (HR 663) to the House or Representatives - Armed Services & Veterans' Affairs Committees. This bill required the Department of Defense (DOD) and the military departments to evaluate whether each member of the Armed Forces has been (1) based or stationed where an open air burn pit was used to dispose of waste, or (2) exposed to toxic airborne chemicals. Members located where an open burn pit was used or exposed to toxic airborne chemicals must be enrolled in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, unless the member elects not to enroll. [1]

The effects of Burn Pits are being compared to other known military health cases like the wide exposure to Agent Orange from Viet Nam- as well as the many cancer cases caused by disasters like 9/11.  According to Chisolm Chisolm & Kilpatrick, a prominent law firm representing veterans health issues, "...Unlike exposure to Agent Orange, VA does not consider any disabilities presumptively associated with exposure to burn pit smoke.  Therefore, post-9/11 veterans filing claims for service connection must obtain a medical opinion stating that their condition is at least as likely as not a result of their exposure to burn pit smoke.  VA adjudicates burn pit claims on a case-by-case basis in which the decision is based on the facts unique to each claim.  However, post-9/11 veterans exposed to burn pits do in fact suffer from disabilities entitled to presumptive service connection because they were exposed to an herbicide agent as defined by VA under 38 CFR § 3.307(a)(6).  Here, VA defines herbicide agent specifically as “2,4-D; 2,4,5-T and its contaminant TCDD; cacodylic acid, and picloram”.  TCDD is the unfortunate byproduct in the production of 2,4,5-T, one of the two herbicides in Agent Orange.  Nevertheless, it is also a byproduct of incomplete combustion of certain harmful substances such as those disposed of in the burn pits, as indicated above." [2]


VA has determined that the presumption of service connection based on exposure to an herbicide agent, which includes TCDD, is warranted for any conditions for which VA acknowledges a positive association between the condition and such exposure.  Furthermore, VA has already established this positive association as it relates to many conditions, including but not limited to, diabetes mellitus type 2, ischemic heart disease, and respiratory cancers.  As a result, post-9/11 veterans who were exposed to burn pits should be afforded the same presumptions as Vietnam veterans. 


Wife of Burn Pits Victim Builds Action Response Initiative
*NYCRA Exclusive Interview with Mrs. Rosie Torres of BurnPits360 - Edited by: Cheri Ambrose

My husband is Leroy Torres, Ret. Captain of the US Army (2nd Battalion, 402nd Army Field) who served 10 years in active service.  His latest tour was 1 year spent in Balad, Iraq (2007) as Deputy Support Operations where he was constantly exposed to the toxic emissions of Burn Pits. I recall him being quarantined for respiratory issues and when he came home, we ended up at the ER due to severe flu-like respiratory episodes.  These issues continue to escalate today, resulting in chronic physical after-effects that recently forced out of his job.

With a simple Google search for "soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan/dying", stories popped up immediately including stories like a wife whose husband had died from a glioblastoma. Reading story after story brought me to Dr. Miller's article about the US Army concealing cases of Constrictive Bronchiolitis- the very lung disease my husband ended up being diagnosed with.  His report also shows an (unnamed) auto-immune disease which prompted me to reach doctors familiar with 9/11- who only had best guesses for us.

Prior to connecting with John Feal, I remember pulling up the air sampling data from 9/11 online. And then compared the V-A published policy that highlighted the dioxins from a declassified air sampling from Balad (the biggest burn pit) and found that there's around 10 or 12 that are completely the same.  Studying further reports on the mortalities and illnesses again, found identical matches. 

DIRECT AND CONSTANT PLUME EXPOSURE:
I've heard soldiers describe it as 10 acres worth of a black plume of smoke that just hovered over the whole base all day & all night - where the burn pits were situated near or next to the housing quarters. There was no area that was untouched by this plume. There was soup on the air conditioners; inside their nose; gray matter and black stuff would come out every time they would shower. This horrible stench was everywhere throughout his entire stay. All the soldiers tolerated this because "we're here to work". Leroy slept with a sheet over his face as a habit to reduce inhaling the "black stuff" while he was sleeping. This went on for an entire year with him, but for other soldiers, exposure must have been more.

I started BurnPits360 with a unique set of initiatives; we use real-time data and our own independent registry (separate from the V-A’s registry) to develop policy and legislation that will help save lives. We have direct access to those people that are sick in every congressional district and we track mortality also. Our goal is to shut down every single one of them, but we also want to help our vets at home with resources and any support that they may need.


Local Advocacy Calling for Time Sensitive Action + The WarFighters Bill

Prominent names like John Feal (FealGood Foundation) and Jon Stewart (American entertainer & political commentator) have become formidable champions in the legislative arena of 9/11 responders and cancer victims. They have taken on the fight to redefine 'awareness' to call on congressional action to secure healthcare and compensation to those who gave everything in the line of duty during the rescue and clean up efforts at the 2001 disaster. 

In the fall of 2019, this dynamic duo has been recruited by Rosie Torres of BurnPits360.org - an advocacy foundation for veterans and families affected by the health effects of Burn Pits exposures. With other powerful supporters like New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a new bipartisan legislative push is underway to ensure fast-acting health response and compensation to the tens of thousands suffering linked health issues from their military service and sacrifice for this country. 

"With many Americans, the usual first reaction when they see a veteran is to say, 'thank you for your service'. As much as I myself don't say that lightly, that phrase is just something we’re all programmed to saying.  We need to modify that to “…thank you for your service and your sacrifice- What can I do to help you? How can I repay you?”  In fact, we can go further by asking “How can I give back to you for what you gave to our country?”  - states John Feal. "I'm confident that we're going to get something done by the end of this year- we're targeting veteran's day! We'd like to see all the legislation passed... it's called the WARFIGHTERS BILL. This is something that a divided country can wrap their arms around where everybody is united together. I still believe our military is one of those sacred things that the American people will get behind."

* Stay tuned for feature article on BurnPits360.org and the congressional healing on March 23, 2021 about a proposal for Burn Pits Legislation.


NEWS UPDATE
Rubio, Gillibrand Introduce Landmark Burn Pits Legislation to Help Veterans

March 26, 2021 / Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the bipartisan and bicameral Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act. U.S. Representatives Raul Ruiz, M.D (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) will introduce the legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill would provide presumptive U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits to servicemembers who have deployed and have illnesses due to exposure to burn pits and other toxins. Approximately 3.5 million veterans have been exposed to burn pits that spewed toxic fumes and carcinogens into the air. “This legislation includes presumption and actually fixes this urgent and immoral issue. Anything else just delays and denies the treatment and benefits our warriors need,” said veterans advocate Jon Stewart.

Presumptive conditions include a wide range of cancers and respiratory illnesses, including: asthma, that was diagnosed after service, head cancer of any type, neck cancer of any type, respiratory cancer of any type, gastrointestinal cancer of any type, reproductive cancer of any type, lymphoma cancer of any type, lymphomatic cancer of any type, kidney cancer, brain cancer, melanoma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis, emphysema, granulomatous disease, interstitial lung disease, pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis.
 
The following organizations support the bill: Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The American Legion, Burn Pits 360, Vote Vets, Military Veterans Advocacy, Stronghold Freedom Foundation, Dixon Center, Veterans for Common Sense, Sergeant Sullivan Circle, National Veterans Legal Services Program, Warriors Project, Grunt Style, Feal Good Foundation.


Learning from the 1975 NY Tel Exchange Fire: First Major Job-Related Toxic Exposure in Firefighting History

Over 45 years ago, the first responders' community including the remaining survivors of the 1975 NY Tel Exchange Fire recalls one of the most significant disasters in firefighting history next only to 9/11.  The many health impacts from this historical event, exposing all responders also resulted in countless safety references from its many occupational hazards as well as prevention protocols and protective innovations. 

The NY Cancer Resource Alliance (NYCRA) features Ret. FDNY Ff. Dan Noonan and his contribution & sacrifice to the City of New York.  After his tenure at the fire service, Mr. Noonan pursued a life-long national crusade in safety awareness and publishing educational projects including his report about the 1975 NY Telephone Exchange Fire.  

Mr. Noonan's career started in Ladder Company 3 on East 13th street where only two years into the fire service, he experienced one of the most historical and devastating fires in the history of NYC Fire Department. He has since been an advocate for the 699 firefighters who responded to the Telephone Company Fire. His countless presentations and published work continues to raise education, awareness and prevention for all emergency responders about occupational toxic exposures-- referencing the 1975 Fire as an historical marker for incendiary airborne toxicities and carcinogens.   (See complete article)

What is "SALTY"?   A Study of Toxins from Emergent Fire Zones (originally published 7/11/2019)

TOXICOLOGY 101: A THREAT TO FIREFIGHTERS HEALTH

"In the fire service, a seasoned firefighter earns the title "salty" after having enough (ash or smoke dust) contaminants land on their protective gear.  

As part of our evaluation of all occupational illnesses contracted by first responders, we enter the world of TOXICOLOGY- the branch of science focused on the effects and detection of poisons.  It is also the discipline overlapping chemistry, biology and pharmacology- studying the adverse effects of chemical substances on living organisms.  In pursuit of first responders’ safety as far as chemical effects on the body, we connected with Professor David Purser of the Hartford Environmental Research (UK), a renowned toxicology expert who conducted major reviews on fire-exposed carcinogens published worldwide. “9/11 was unusual in that a major environmental hazard resulted from the dust cloud released as and after the Towers collapsed,” says Prof. Purser.  “The dust inhaled by responders at the time, and afterwards working at the site, has resulted in serious ongoing and developing health conditions and to this day. 

For fires in general, there is also increasing evidence and concern regarding FF exposure to carcinogens, especially from soot contamination to skin and clothing following attendance at incidents and during training.” An abstract from Prof. Purser’s latest presentation – “ Toxins Including Effects of Fire Retardants, During Fires and Post-Fire Investigation Activities” indicates a remarkable breakdown of some of the major toxins and carcinogenic compounds that the average firefighter would be exposed to.

• ASPHYXIANT GASES: CO, HCN, CO2 , low oxygen

• IRRITANTS/ ACID GASES :  HCl, HBr, HF, COF2 , H3 PO4, SO2 , NOx

• ORGANIC IRRITANTS:  acrolein, formaldehyde, crotonaldehyde, phenol, styrene

• PARTICULATES: especially ultrafine particles + metals

These toxins are usually found within active fire zones- either inside the fire event itself or downwind plume in the form of residues and soot or lethal fragments activated at high temperatures or in airborne smoke.  These asphyxiant gases, irritants and particulates are the main causes of injury and death of fire victims exposed to high concentrations inside burning buildings.  

Asphyxiant gases cause collapse with loss of consciousness during a fire, leading to death if exposure continues.  Irritants and smoke particulates cause pain to the eyes and lungs, with breathing difficulties, which inhibit escape during a fire and can lead to lung inflammation and edema within a few hours of rescue, which can also be fatal.  Those surviving may make a good recovery or suffer long term neurological or cardio-respiratory health effects, depending on the severity of the exposure. Those most at risk from these effects at the fire scene are building occupants and emergency responders not protected by breathing apparatus. 

See complete article: "A REVIEW OF TOXIC COMPOUNDS FROM EMERGENT FIRE ZONES"- NYCRA NEWS





WITNESSING THE HISTORY OF OCCUPATIONAL TOXIC EXPOSURES
By Dr. Robert L. Bard, cancer diagnostic specialist (NYC)

I was an active medical personnel for the US Air Force in the early 70's, where I have witnessed firsthand the many service-related tolls and physiological abuses that our troops have undergone health-wise.  I have scanned countless patients for health conditions linked to incendiary (toxic) exposures.  Many of these same conditions continued to plague them years after their tours of duty. 

On the domestic front, our medical community found startling parallels between those medical illnesses from toxic exposures to our first responders (firefighters).  This time, exposures from historical disasters like the 1975 NY Tel Fire and 9/11 e
armarked a history of health disorders "from the job" linked to exposure to burning complex compounds at high temperatures. A significant number of these individuals who spent enough time in "the danger zone" have contracted varying rates of cancer, calling for immediate diagnostic and treatment- years after the exposure.  This spike in cases can only come from ‘dormant’ cells or recurrence (usually with a vengeance) – such as cases of cancer tumors in the lung, liver, prostate, kidney, brain, skin and even the eye. To troubleshoot each case, it would be advantageous to take a crash course in toxicology and to recognize the chemical compounds that literally BATHED all responders during the event.  Understanding these chemicals can help us pursue their behaviors (on the body) and their long and short term effects.

By mid-2016, a curiously similar stream of disorders appeared in growing numbers, potentially related to toxic exposures from airborne incendiary substances- all from post-military personnel. Cases included neurological issues (nerve damage), cardiovascular disorders, skin lesions and liver & kidney problems - to name a few. News reports appeared to link these cases with military burn pits (and other fire related exposures) where prolonged exposure to burning plastics, lubricants, petroleum-based products and other refuse material were the likely culprit.

1) Congress.gov;  https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/663?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22CASE+Act%22%5D%7D&s=1&r=88

2) CCK Burn Pits & VA Disability- Veterans Law- "Agent Orange and Burn Pits" https://cck-law.com/blog/burn-pits-the-agent-orange-for-post-9-11-veterans/


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