A variety of cancers — including mesothelioma — will be covered officially under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, a law designed to help New York City residents and rescue/recovery workers made ill in the aftermath of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.
The announcement by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health came Monday afternoon, a day before the 11th anniversary of the attacks on New York City.
The new regulations finally will allow cancer victims to be compensated from a $2.8 billion fund that was approved by Congress in 2010. No cancers were included originally because health officials previously cited a lack of scientific evidence to support a link between cancer and the toxic dust that was unleashed by the collapse and burning of the Twin Towers.
The decision, “marks an important step in the effort to provide needed treatment and care to 9/11 responders and survivors,” said Dr. John Howard, administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program.
Asbestos, Other Dust Blanketed Manhattan
The dust cloud that blanketed parts of Manhattan for weeks included particles of lead, asbestos, gypsum, calcium carbonate and dozens of other toxins. Construction of the Twin Towers included an estimated 400 tons of asbestos, the fire-retardant mineral that causes mesothelioma, the cancer with no known cure.
The terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, originally killed 3,000 people — the majority of them in Manhattan — when hijacked passenger jets were flow into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. A fourth jet was headed toward Washington D.C., but crashed into an open field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing only the passengers aboard.
The New York Post estimated that 400 people, either nearby Manhattan residents or rescue/recovery workers, already died from some type of cancer related to the toxic dust. Under one section of the Health and Compensation Act, there are 40,000 people in New York being medically monitored and 20,000 receiving some kind of medical treatment.
Monday’s announcement stems from the work of the World Trade Center Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee that presented its recommendations to NIOSH in March. The panel consisted of doctors, scientists and community activists, who voted against a blanket recommendation of all cancers but did include approximately 50 that would be covered.
Updated Mesothelioma Law Takes Effect Soon
The update regulations take effect 30 days after the ruling is published in the Federal Register, according to NBC News.
It ended a long battle with the federal government, which has been slow to admit the link between many cancers and the toxic dust cloud. Since the terrorist attack, many victims have fought for years to be included in federal coverage.
Until this announcement, most of the illnesses covered were respiratory in nature. Thousands have been treated for asthmatic conditions and gastrointestinal problems.
“This is a bittersweet thing,” said John Walcott, an NYPD detective who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2003 after working for months at Ground Zero. “It took 11 years to do what should have been done a long time ago.”
Many first responders and victim advocate groups argued for years that studies have shown that those who ingested toxic chemicals like asbestos have a much-higher risk of developing cancer. And numerous studies showed that individuals who worked around the Ground Zero rubble were hit harder by different cancers.
Along with mesothelioma, more common cancers on the list that will be covered are thyroid, breast, oral, ovarian, liver, stomach, esophageal and urinary tract. Excluded from the list are pancreatic, prostate and brain cancer.
A big issue with mesothelioma is the long latency period that is usually associated with it. It can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos before a patient is diagnosed with the disease.
With cancers included, more claims will be filed, but there is no assurances that the pot of money in the fund will be increased. According to the Post, only $875 million will be available to be divided up when the initial payments begins. After the five years have passed, another $1.9 billion will be released to those with valid claims.
At some point, the money will all be dispersed, which would not help a mesothelioma patient who is diagnosed 50 years after exposure.