9/11 Firefighters Have Higher Cancer Rates

9/11 firefighters exposed to toxic dust and fumes at World Trade Center’s Ground Zero have—not surprisingly—higher cancer rates. Compared to firefighters who did not work at Ground Zero, 9/11 firefighters have a 19% increased risk for developing cancer, said CNN, citing research published in Lancet. The cancer increase occurred in the first seven years following the terrorist attacks.

“We excluded cancers that might have been diagnosed early (that may have existed before the attack) … and we still see a 19% increase,” Dr. David Prezant, chief medical officer and pulmonologist at the New York City Fire Department and the study’s lead author, told CNN. “When we put those cancers back in, we see a 32% increase. It is an unexpected finding considering that for most cancers, the latency period—the time between exposure to a carcinogen and expression of disease—tends to span decades,” he added. “My initial bias was that for the first 10 or 15 years we would not see an increase,” said Prezant. “That’s another reason I think our findings are so strong, because I actually thought we would find the opposite,” he noted, reported CNN.

Some experts believe the cancer is developing so quickly because of the unusual characteristics of ground zero dust and its many chemicals, explained CNN. “Typically for solid tumors we would say there’s a latency period of decades,” Dr. Jacqueline Moline, author of a study about multiple myeloma among responders, told CNN. “Is something about the dust accelerating things much sooner than we would have expected?”

Researchers have talked about the high volume of hundreds of compounds, including particulates and gases—some carcinogenic—present in ground zero dust and air, including asbestos and benzene, said CNN. “Those particulates are not just dust, they are dust coated with the same chemicals that were in the air in terms of the gases, sometimes, actually, getting deeper into the lung or better penetrating into the blood circulation because they’re carried on a particle,” said Prezant.

Tragically, some World Trade Center first responders may be left without resources for health care, thanks to the recent decision to omit cancer from illnesses covered under the Zadroga Act. The group includes some 9/11 rescue and recovery workers barred from receiving compensation via the World Trade Center Toxic Dust Settlement that was approved last year.

Last year, New York City officials, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and a number of contractors agreed to a $625 million settlement to cover lawsuits filed by Ground Zero first responders who claimed to have become ill from exposure to toxic dust at the site. Unfortunately, 325 who applied for the settlement were rejected by the federal judge overseeing the case, because they purportedly waited too long to file their lawsuits. It seems that the April 12 eligibility cut-off date announced two months later, on June 10, 2010, left out responders who filed cases between those dates. Court papers allege that neither the ineligible claimants nor their lawyers were ever told a cut-off date was being negotiated between the Court and the defense, despite that the defense knew their claims were in the works.

Many of those omitted cannot work because of their Ground Zero illness and, thus, have no health insurance. These forgotten heroes, more than anyone, cheered the December 2010 passage of the <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/Zadroga-Act-WTC-World-Trade-Center-Claims-Lawyer-Attorney-Lawsuit">Zadroga Act, which among other things, provides funding for health care for sickened 9/11 responders. Sadly, as we’ve reported, those hopes were destroyed when the federal government deemed that cancer would not, at least for now, be listed as a covered Zadroga Act illness, due to a lack of hard scientific evidence linking the disease with exposure to toxic dust at Ground Zero.

“This is not just about compensation, this is also about health care,” Matthew McCauley, an attorney with Parker Waichman Alonso LLP, which represents 13 Zadroga Act clients, said in a press release issued by the firm. “All of the people who are now barred from obtaining any compensation from the settlement are also barred from getting health care from Zadroga. It’s a triple whammy. Not only can you not work, but now you have developed cancer, and you have no access to health care to treat that cancer.”

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