Federal health officials said yesterday that there isn't enough evidence to add cancer to the health conditions caused by the smoke and dust clouds following the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks.
The finding is significant because it means cleanup workers and those who live near the towers who have since developed cancer will not qualify for health care compensation under the James Zadroga health legislation that passed last year.
It also immediately sparked criticism from lawmakers and 9/11 first responders.
John Howard, the administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), said in an initial report that a causal relationship between 9/11 and cancers has yet to be proven.
"Based on the scientific and medical findings in the peer-reviewed literature reported in this first periodic review of cancer for the WTC Health Program," Howard wrote, "insufficient evidence exists at this time to propose a rule to add cancer, or a certain type of cancer, to the list of WTC-Related Health Condition."
Howard also noted, however, that there is a lack of published scientific and medical findings on 9/11 and cancer even though 10 years is typically enough time for environmentally caused cancers to begin to surface. In fact, there are only 18 published research studies on the 9/11 attack that discuss cancer, he said, and just five of those were peer-reviewed.
Consequently, the report says, there isn't any evidence suggesting there is no link between cancer and the 9/11 exposures, either.
Howard noted that cancer is a common disease in Americans, so determining that 9/11 exposures caused cancer in workers is difficult.
"Drawing causal inferences about exposures resulting from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the observation of cancer cases in responders and survivors is especially challenging since cancer is not a rare disease," he wrote.
Howard's report was required by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The bill provides health care for those exposed to toxins released when the World Trade Center towers collapsed. The bill took effect at the beginning of this year and provides $4.3 billion over five years for health monitoring and compensation.
The bill listed specific illnesses that would be covered by the fund, namely asthma and other respiratory problems. Cancer -- which would cost more to treat than the other illnesses on the list -- was not included, but the bill required a periodic review of evidence to see if it should be added.
The WTC Health Program will re-evaluate adding cancer to the list in mid-2012.
The sponsors of the Zadroga bill -- Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.) -- said they were "disappointed" by the NIOSH report.
"The collapse of the Trade Center towers released a cloud of poisons, including carcinogens, throughout lower Manhattan and we fully expect that cancers will be covered under our legislation," they said in a statement.
They added: "We are confident that studies on the effects of the toxins at ground zero -- research that, under the Zadroga Act, can be funded and fully supported for the first time -- will ultimately provide the scientific evidence that Dr. Howard needs to make this determination."
The finding was also criticized by John Feal, a 9/11 first responder who led cleanup workers in lobbying Congress for the Zadroga bill. In a statement, Feal said his group "strongly believe[s] cancer should be a covered impairment."
"We are certain that forthcoming medical evidence will establish such a link," he said. "As we have seen countless of our brethren fall to a form of this horrible disease time and again following 9/11."
Click here for the report.
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