Evidence grows that 9/11 first-responders got cancer after working at Ground Zero

Published: Tuesday, February 21, 2012, 4:00 AM

Joseph Zadroga fought for the bill that bears his son’s name. But will it cover first responders who fell ill with cancer?

The director of Mount Sinai Medical Center’s World Trade Center health program is preparing to publish a study that will show elevated risks of cancer among 9/11 rescue and recovery workers.

A leading authority on the illnesses suffered by Ground Zero responders, Dr. Philip Landrigan says that an analysis of 20,000 medical case histories revealed an incidence of cancer that is 14% higher than expected for a population of the same profile. The most common elevations were in prostate, thyroid and blood cancers.

Landrigan’s findings add to the evidence that the toll from service on or around The Pile, bad as that toll has been, will significantly worsen with time. Research by fire department doctors previously had found a 19% higher cancer rate among FDNY members who’d been at Ground Zero than among those who hadn’t.

It has been well-established that exposure to airborne toxins in the smoke and dust that shrouded Ground Zero produced respiratory, heart and gastrointestinal damage. And medical experts have feared from the start that cancers, which develop slowly, would emerge.

Tragic personal experiences have already convinced many 9/11 responders and their families that there is a definite link between service and cancer. Based on disability claims, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association has counted 297 cases among 12,000 cops who served at the WTC, with 44 the average age at the time of diagnosis. The rate in the general population is a far lower 541 cases per 100,000.

Combined with FDNY findings, Landrigan’s conclusions begin to suggest that there is terrible truth in at least some of the anecdotal evidence. More must be established — and urgently.

That’s why City Hall made the right call in stepping in to order police surgeon Dr. Eli Kleinman, who is conducting his own 9/11 research, to provide Landrigan with NYPD data that could enhance his study.

The responders need the fullest information possible in order to seek proper medical advice. nd, most immediately, Dr. John Howard must have the full picture. As coordinator of World Trade Center Programs for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Howard is charged with deciding the range of ailments that will qualify a responder for health care and compensation under the federal Zadroga program.

Landrigan testified last week before the World Trade Center Health Program Scientific/Technical Advisory Committee, a panel that will make recommendations to Howard. Afterward, the panel — headed by Dr. Elizabeth Ward — reached a consensus that Zadroga benefits should be extended to cover some cancers, leaving until next month a recommendation on which ones.

There’s every indication that Howard, a redoubtable figure, will make the right call based on the science in an increasingly grim situation.

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