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UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher Shehnaz K. Hussain Ph.D., Sc.M. has received a $1.9 million California climate action grant to lead a study into the cancer risks facing firefighters as they battle wildfires.

The grant is funded through a partnership between the University of California and the state of California, which awarded over $80 million in research grants to help put solutions in place that directly address state climate priorities. A total of four UC Davis climate action grants were awarded.

Dr. Hussain’s research, “Exposure Assessment, Health Monitoring, and Cancer Control in Wildland Firefighters” will examine the main carcinogens and cancer risk factors for firefighters as the number of wildfires escalates with climate change.

“California’s firefighters are a climate-vulnerable group due to their heavy burden of occupational exposures related to the increased frequency and scale of wildland fires. The fires are also burning into urban areas where there are many more chemicals and other potential carcinogens that threaten the health of firefighters,” said Hussain, who is also a professor of Public Health Sciences at UC Davis.

Cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters.

Dr. Hussain said the research will identify areas where equipment, technology, protocols, education, programs, and policy can be developed or amended to reduce exposures to carcinogens, mitigate cancer risks, and improve early detection of cancer in California’s firefighters.

One aim of this research is to capture and test carcinogenic chemicals and other compounds found in wildfire emissions. The team will also study a large group of firefighters to identify biomarkers and occupational and behavioral cancer risk factors that could be reduced in the future. Another objective is to produce stories about California firefighters dealing with cancer. Researchers plan to evaluate the ability of this peer-to-peer storytelling to enhance best practices for cancer prevention in firefighters.

Dr. Hussain will lead a team of biochemical, engineering, microbiology, environmental and occupational scientists on the research initiative. The team will include co-lead Derek Urwin, assistant adjunct professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA and a career firefighter. Other members of the research team include UC Davis colleagues Sheri Belafsky, Cristina Davis, Janine LaSalle, Irva Hertz-Picciotto and Thomas Young.

The California Climate Action Seed Grants and Matching Grants will fund 38 projects that collectively involve more than 130 community, industry, tribal, and public agencies, as well as 12 University of California locations, 11 California State University campuses and two private universities.

Seed grants were awarded to 34 teams totaling $56.2 million. Four teams received matching grants totaling $26.9 million to support larger projects that could leverage additional funding from non-state sources. The $83.l million total is part of $185 million allocated by the state for UC climate initiatives advancing progress toward California’s climate goals.

CapRadio sat down with Dr. Hussain to learn a little more about her plans and how this research might help us better understand the impacts of smoke on Californians as a whole. It’s interview is available online.