Link Between Cancer and 9/11 Questioned
Written by Faith Anderson on December 19, 2012
Government’s Decision to Include Cancers on List Called into Question
The new research examined 55,700 people, including residents of Lower Manhattan, workers, students and passers-by exposed to debris from the towers on the day of the terrorist attacks, as well as rescue and recovery workers present at the site of the World Trade Centers, on barges or at the Staten Island landfill where the debris was taken in the nine months after 9/11. Researchers looked at 23 cancers from 2003 to 2008, and overall, found no increase in the rate of the disease in study participants compared to the rate among the general population. The prevalence of three cancers – prostate, thyroid and multiple myeloma – was considerably higher, but only in rescue and recovery workers and not in the rest of the exposed population. However, since the number of actual cancer cases was small and because the study participants may have been screened for cancer more frequently than other people on average, the study authors concluded that it was too early to draw any correlation between cancer and time spent at ground zero.
With this lack of clear evidence linking cancer to exposure to debris from 9/11, the decision by the federal government to add 50 different types of cancer to the list of illnesses covered by the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act has been drawn into question. However, the health commissioner of New York City, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, has noted that it is too soon to consider the research a contradiction of the government’s decision. “Cancers take 20 years to develop,” said Farley, “and we might see something different 20 years down the line.” But, he said, “You don’t want to wait 20 to 30 years to get a definitive answer” to people who are suffering from the disease today.
Fund Intended for Compensation and Medical Treatment
Initially, the money set aside in the fund – consisting of $2.8 billion to compensate victims and $1.5 billion for treatment costs not covered by health insurance – was reserved mainly for respiratory illnesses like asthma. Cancer, however, is expected to be far more expensive to treat than other illnesses compensated by the fund, and the economic loss caused by cancer could require more reimbursement, since many cancer victims are unable to work and others have already died. The fund has not yet begun making payments, but some police officers and other rescue and recovery workers from ground zero who have cancer have been receiving enhanced pension benefits due to a 2005 state law that said they were presumed to have developed cancer because of exposure to debris from the terrorist attacks.
Dust and Debris Were Known to Contain Carcinogens
Part of the federal government’s decision to add cancer to the list of covered illnesses was based on the fact that smoke, dust and fumes were known to contain potential carcinogens like silica, asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, benzene, metals, volatile organic compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Until this new study was published, the examination of the potential link between cancer and 9/11 was a study conducted by the NY Fire Department and released in 2011. According to the research, there was a 19% higher incidence of all types of cancer among exposed firefighters compared to those not exposed to the twin tower debris. Most of the increase was associated with thyroid and prostate cancers, melanoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.