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Firefighters are routinely exposed to toxic fumes and gases released by burning plastics and synthetic materials. ((CBC))

Manitoba is about to become the first province in Canada to recognize breast cancer as an occupational risk to female firefighters.

That means it will be added to the list of recognized job hazards, opening the door to provincial compensation, with the expectation that the coverage will be introduced in the Manitoba legislature on Tuesday, said Alex Forrest, president of the Winnipeg firefighters union.

He said three other cancers will also be recognized in the legislation: prostate cancer, melanoma, and multiple myeloma.

About 40 Winnipeg firefighters currently suffering from those cancers will now be able to seek compensation under the new legislation, Forrest said.

"The firefighter's family, if that firefighter dies of that cancer, the family's looked after from [the province's Workers' Compensation Board] in the same way as if a firefighter falls through a floor in a fire," he said.

Manitoba leads the way

Several other cancers are already recognized by provincial legislation as being linked to firefighting. Manitoba was one of the first provinces to offer such coverage in 2002, and it was followed by almost all others.

Firefighters are routinely exposed to toxic fumes and gases released by burning plastics and synthetic materials.

The risk of developing breast cancer is three to five times greater in a female firefighter than in the general population, Forrest said, noting "at every fire there are more than 200 known carcinogens that are connected to breast cancer."

The Winnipeg Fire Department has 43 female firefighters — second only to Toronto in the country.

Cancers initially covered by Manitoba after the 2002 legislation was introduced to include primary site brain cancer, bladder or kidney cancer, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma or leukemia.

That coverage was expanded in 2005 to include colon or ureter cancers and lung cancer in non-smokers, as well as heart attacks within 24 hours of emergency responses.