They risk their lives to protect the public, but often it isn't a bullet or the flames from an inferno that law enforcers and firefighters have to worry about.

Rather, it's microscopic elements on the walls, the floors or even in the air that officers breathe when they walk unknowingly into the middle of a meth house.

In Utah, at least 84 current and former law enforcers have become sick or died with their only apparent link being that they all were exposed to meth labs during the course of their careers.

In May of 2005, Midvale police detective Jose Argueta, a narcotics investigator, died from an aggressive form of esophageal cancer.

In January 2005, a rare form of cancer claimed Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy Jade Pusey.

Salt Lake County Sheriff's Lt. Robby Russo, a former narcotics officer, had a kidney, gallbladder and a rib removed after he was diagnosed with cancer.

Earlier this year, the Utah Labor Commission agreed to use $500,000 designated by the Legislature over the next two years to study whether cancer and other diseases are a result of public safety employees' working conditions, which would make them eligible for workers compensation benefits. Specifically, they want to find out if exposure to meth labs can conclusively be linked to the deaths and illnesses of these officers.

While the move by the Labor Commission has been applauded by all, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff would like to do more to help officers now.

"We've got to study this link. We owe it to our men and women of law enforcement and fire departments," he said. "In the meantime, officers are dying. They're getting sick."

Wednesday, Shurtleff invited representatives from a New York City program to talk about a method that has been successful in treating those who became sick after digging through the rubble of ground zero following the World Trade Center attack.

Numerous police chiefs, narcotics officers and firefighters from across the state attended Wednesday's presentation.

Eventually, Shurtleff said he would like to raise enough money through corporate sponsors and the business world to send Utah police and firefighters to New York to participate in the six-week program.

The New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project attempts to clean out a person's body by using exercise, a sauna treatment and vitamin supplements. More than 750 people have already completed the program and reported success. The program currently has a waiting list of about 3,000 people, Shurtleff said.

The project is partially funded by the Church of Scientology-based Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education. The project was co-founded by movie star and Scientology member Tom Cruise.

But Shurtleff noted the program received money from many sources and that the project's board consisted of people from many religious denominations. This project should not be viewed as a Scientology center, he said.

"I wouldn't be involved in anyway if I thought it was a Scientology recruitment program," he said.

In fact, people who already have cancer are not allowed to particpate until their cancer is in remission. The detox program is not meant to act as a kind of alternative medicine, Shurtleff said.

After the presentation, several officers approached Shurtleff saying they would be interested in traveling to New York to receive the treatment.


E-mail: [email protected]