Mesothelioma is expected to be one of the cancers covered when a special advisory panel makes its recommendations next month on expanding the $2.8 billion Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Victims Fund.
The Zadroga Fund, which became law in January 2011, has been paying medical and non-medical bills for people with illnesses related to the World Trade Center attack in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
Cancers, though, have been excluded, despite considerable outcry and mounting evidence that many have been related to the toxic cloud that engulfed the firemen, policemen, rescue workers and other first responders following the assault.
There was an estimated 400 tons of asbestos in the World Trade Center when it collapsed, creating a carcinogenic mix of chemicals in the air for weeks.
Mesothelioma and First Responders
Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly cancer caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. It can take anywhere from 10-50 years after exposure before symptoms appear.
Only recently has mesothelioma been linked to any first responders.
The panel, which was ordered by Congress, has been reviewing evidence and listening to both medical professionals and the general public the past two days at the downtown federal building in New York.
“It seems like many (members) are in favor of listing at least some cancers of some systems as World Trade Center-related conditions,” said Dr. Elizabeth Ward, chairwoman of the WTC Health Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee.
Federal officials who administer the Zadroga Act have said in the past that there is no definitive link between the cancers that have emerged among the first responders and the toxic air in which they worked and breathed for days without proper respiratory equipment.
Link Between 9/11 Exposures and Cancer
Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, testified Tuesday at the WTC Health Program that a soon-to-be-released study involving 20,000 responders showed a 14 percent increase in cancer rates among those who worked the sites.
“I think we’ve reached a point, where we can say with a high degree of certainty that the exposures the responders experienced down there at Ground Zero and other World Trade Center sites, we can reasonably anticipate that those exposures are going to cause cancer,” Landrigan told DNAinfo.com.
Ward emphasized that “scientific rational,” would have to be part of the equation in determining which illnesses would be added. A direct link to a blood cancer might be tougher to find than a lung cancer or a pleural mesothelioma.
Ward’s comments followed a day of emotional testimony from several cancer patients who were part of the rescue and cleanup effort. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association told Metro.Us that 65 officers have died from cancer since 9/11. One FDNY study in 2011 found that firefighters who worked at Ground Zero were 19 percent more likely to develop cancer than those who had not worked the area.
A review by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in 2011 found too little evidence to prove a definitive link, which rankled both medical professionals like Landrigan and many of his patients.
Adding coverage for cancer patients would give them access to funds covering medical expense and non-medical expenses. The legislation in 2011 reactivated a program that ended in 2003.
Sheila Birnbaum, special master of the compensation fund, said this week that covering cancer patients likely would reduce coverage for victims already being covered because of the $2.8 billion cap on the fund.