Help could be on the way for some 9/11 terrorist attack first responders stricken with cancer due to their exposure to toxic dust at Ground Zero. Yesterday, by a 14-0 vote, the World Trade Center Health Program Scientific/Technical Advisory Committee agreed that there was enough scientific evidence available to justify adding “certain” cancers to the list of illnesses covered by the Zadroga Act. By the end of a 4 and 1/2 hour meeting, the panel had decided to recommend that over 30 cancers be named covered illnesses and eligible for Zadroga Act medical and disability compensation.
In sometimes narrow votes, the panel decided to recommend that cancers of the respiratory and digestive system, along with thyroid cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, eye cancer, oral cavity cancer, urinary tract cancer, mesothelioma, melanoma, leukemia, lymphoma, soft tissue sarcomas and all childhood and rare cancers, all be deemed covered illnesses. The panel, however, declined to recommend that some other cancers, including brain, prostate and pancreatic cancer, be covered under the Zadroga Act because of a continued lack of scientific evidence. The advisors also voted down a proposal that would have made all types of cancer eligible for Zadroga Act compensation.
Passed in December 2010, the Zadroga Act reopened the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund for five years to provide payment for job and economic losses for first responders, those trapped in the buildings, and local residents, who suffered illness or injuries related to the toxic dust. However, purportedly due to a lack of scientific evidence linking cancer to the toxic dust exposure, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) last year declined to include any form of the disease list of covered Zadroga Act illnesses.
Since then, however, at least two studies have made strong connections between exposure to the toxic dust and various cancers. Last year, a Lancet study of New York City firefighters found a 19% increase in cancer overall in those who responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Most recently, Dr. Philip Landrigan, a dean at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, testified during a Committee hearing last month that a yet-to-be published study conducted by his team revealed a 14 percent increase in cancer rates among rescue workers, including significant increases in prostate, thyroid and certain blood cancers. The study was the largest of its kind, involving 20,000 firefighters and police officers as well as sanitation workers, construction workers and others who assisted at Ground Zero after the terror attack.
The panel has until April 2 to submit its recommendations to NIOSH director Dr. John Howard. Howard with then have 60 days to decide which, if any, of the recommendations will be adopted.
The panel’s recommendations are being cheered by advocates for Ground Zero workers.
“This is round 3 in a 15-round fight,” first-responder and World Trade Center advocate John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, told the New York Daily News. “It’s a victory that they added what they did. By the end, I think the right cancers will be on the list.”
US Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney and Peter King released a statement Wednesday applauding the advisory panel’s vote and urging Howard to adopt the recommendations on cancer, the Daily News said.
“Scientific evidence finally has caught up with what we’ve long known – that the toxins from the collapse of the World Trade Center towers are linked directly to increased cancer rates among 9/11 responders and survivors,” they said in their joint statement.