Mesothelioma is among the 50 different cancers that now will be covered by the $4.3 billion health and compensation fund for victims of 9/11, based on a ruling last week by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Rescue workers, police, firefighters, volunteers, students and local residents who did nothing but live close to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, all can qualify for free medical treatment and possibly substantial payouts if they contracted cancer after breathing the toxic dust from Sept. 11, 2001.
Famed disco singer Donna Summer blamed asbestos-laden dust from 9/11 for the development of her lung cancer. Summer was in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. She died of lung cancer on May. 17.
“We recognize how personal the issue of cancer and all of the health conditions related to the World Trade Center tragedy are to 9/11 responders, survivors and their loved ones,” said Dr. John Howard, director of NIOSH, who delivered the ruling.
The ruling was a direct contrast to Howard’s opinion 11 months before when he said that cancers would not be covered by the federal compensation fund because there was not enough scientific and medical evidence to link the toxic smoke, dust and fumes to such quickly developing cancers.
Mesothelioma, for example, usually takes from 10-50 years after an exposure to asbestos before it is diagnosed.
Until last week’s ruling that added cancer, health issues covered by the fund included a variety of respiratory problems, asthma, chronic sinus irritation, acid reflux disease and other issues with the lungs.
Howard said last week he based his ruling on several factors, including recommendations from a scientific and technical advisory committee in March that included experts in cancer, toxicology and epidemiology, as well as union officials and neighborhood activists.
There was significant public pressure from politicians and their constituents to include cancer.
Howard admitted that it will be impossible to separate those who develop cancer because of the toxic cloud surrounding the terrorist attack, from those who would have developed cancer naturally.
Also going into Howard’s decision was a New York City Fire Department study, published last fall in a British Medical Journal, that concluded firefighters exposed to the 9/11 dust had a 20 percent higher rate of cancer than firefighters who were not exposed.
Among the 50 cancers approved in the ruling were lung, breast, colon, kidney, bladder, ovarian, blood, esophageal, oral, urinary tract and melanoma and mesothelioma. Also included were leukemia, lymphoma and all childhood cancers.
Not included on the list were pancreas, brain and prostate cancers. NIOSH is expecting another 2,000 people to take advantage of the additional cancer coverage. People with cancers on the list could qualify for treatment and payments provided they can make a case that the disease stemmed from the toxic dust.
Cancer patients are expected to begin filing claims in August, after a two-month review and final approval of last week’s ruling. In addition to medical treatment, those with cancer, or those who have lost loved ones to cancer, also will be able file claims with a Victim’s Compensation Fund for lost wages, pain and suffering.
The World Trade Center Health Program is part of the James Zadroga Act, which was passed by Congress in December of 2010 and signed into law by President Obama in January of 2011. The $4.3 billion is divided into $1.55 billion designed for medical treatment and $2.78 billion for compensation payments.
The original bill was designed as a 30-year compensation program, but it was changed to just five years, which will require all claims to be filed by 2016.
Unless the law is redone and the deadline for filing is extended, many of the potential mesothelioma patients might be excluded because of the lengthy latency period between time of exposure to diagnosis. Many of the expected lung cancer and mesothelioma cancers could take decades longer to be diagnosed.
There was an estimated 400 tons of asbestos used to build the World Trade Center, and it became part of the toxic cloud that covered Manhattan for weeks after the attack. It’s the asbestos fibers, which were unknowingly inhaled in the aftermath of 9/11 that can lodge in the lining surrounding the lungs and heart, and later cause cancer.
Government officials, in the hours after the attack, were insisting the air was safe to breath, and many of the first responders, were not using proper respiratory protection.
The ruling was hailed last week as a rousing success by the lawmakers most responsible for the original health program. United States Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Peter King, the three New York lawmakers, lobbied hard for its expansion.
“As we have all seen with our own eyes again and again, cancer incidence among responders and survivors is a tragic fact, and we must continue to do everything we can to provide the help that those who are sick need and deserve,” said the lawmakers in a joint statement last week.
In their statement, they talked about working toward expanding the program beyond the 2016 deadline, and getting more federal funding if it is needed.
Almost 3,000 people died from the attack at the World Trade Center more than a decade ago, and more than 60,000 people have enrolled in the 9/11 health program for those who lived in the area when the disaster struck.