The issue of toxic dust and fumes causing a host of diseases and ailments among the heroic workers on 9-11 and subsequently who valiantly tried to find survivors of the terrorist attacks on NYC, is a touchy one. To many, it seemed obvious that breathing in the fumes and dust of that wreckage was bound to cause harm to the workers, despite the rather rapid pronouncement of no risk by the EPA s then-administrator, Christine Todd Whitman.
Without too much ado, a Victims Compensation Fund was established under the auspices of Kenneth Fineberg, and the Mt. Sinai hospital health clinics were franchised to mete out medical diagnostic and therapeutic care to the workers. Shortly thereafter, Dr. John Howard was given overall medical oversight over the types of diseases and conditions that would be deemed covered for ongoing medical care via the Mt. Sinai special clinics.
We here at ACSH were quite surprised when Dr. Howard s initial evaluation failed to find evidence that cancers of any type could be scientifically linked to WTC dust exposure. Indeed, we expressed our admiration for the courage shown by Dr. Howard at the time, sticking to the science while fighting off the calls for increased largesse to anyone who developed any kind of illness after working at Ground Zero--no matter how briefly. Our own review and consultations with our scientific advisory board experts confirmed our skepticism that cancers might be caused by exposures to substances on the smoky rubble of the WTC.
Perhaps predictably, one year later, 50 cancers were added to the compensation-eligible ailments for WTC workers. When Dr. Howard announced the shift, no specific reasons were given.
Now, the NY Post has discovered that 2500 Ground Zero rescuers and responders have come down with cancer, and more will be seeking compensation and treatment as the deadline comes closer. These data were obtained from the WTC Health Program at Mt. Sinai, as well as from the separate program administered by FDNY for firemen and EMTs.
ACSH's Dr. Gil Ross had this comment: The relatively brief exposure to the various chemicals and toxins at and near the WTC site, Ground Zero as its often called, should not medically or logically be expected to cause human cancer, so we still believe Dr. Howard s original decision to not include cancer as a covered condition for the VCF funds was correct, as agreed to by several other experts. This is a hard topic to take on from a purely scientific perspective, given the emotions provoked by that heinous, cowardly attack now 13 years ago. (Disclosure: my wife was injured when the first building fell, not permanently, and received a small amount of VCF compensation).
"To blare out the numbers of people who state that they were working on the WTC site and have developed cancer of one sort or another benefits no one, absent any context (how many non-WTC workers got cancer in the same period?). But anyway, if the goal is to keep federal funds flowing in to our city to help WTC victims, or at least re-distribute federal funds to our City s benefit, where s the harm. Right?