FDNY Cancer Up Post-9/11

NY Times - April 03, 2011

by SALLY GOLDENBERG and SUSAN EDELMAN

A city official for the first time is revealing a rise in cancer among firefighters who served at Ground Zero, The Post has learned.

Dr. David Prezant, the Fire Department's chief medical officer, has found that firefighters who dug for victims at the World Trade Center are getting cancer at a higher rate than firefighters before 9/11 -- and some types of cancer are "bizarrely off the charts," say sources briefed on the seven-year, federally funded study.

Prezant discussed the findings with members of a WTC medical-monitoring committee last month, several attendees said.

He has not yet disclosed the data, but sources say he has cited unusual rises in three blood cancers -- leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma -- as well as esophageal, prostate and thyroid cancers.

The bombshell report, planned for publication around the 10th anniversary of 9/11, would be the first to document a cancer-rate increase among rescue and recovery workers.

The city recently settled lawsuits by 10,000 WTC workers, more than 600 with cancer.

But officials have so far insisted there is no scientific proof that Ground Zero smoke and dust caused cancer.

An FDNY spokesman gave a statement for Prezant, saying, "The study is ongoing, and no conclusions have been reached on whether cancer rates have increased for firefighters."

But three who attended the March 2 steering-committee meeting told The Post that Prezant reported otherwise.

"The only conclusion that could have been reached was that there was an increase in the cancer rate for firefighters after 9/11," one said.

Minutes of the meeting quote Prezant as saying that "we have completed our seven-year cancer study" and that he planned to present it to the fire unions, FDNY brass and Mayor Bloomberg's office.

A doctor from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health asked Prezant, "In the past, you mentioned about the rates before being somewhat similar -- what led to the change that you noted the increase?"

Prezant said researchers have compiled medical records for three years and had access to state cancer registries, though New York's is three years behind. "Those things keep adding cases," he told the group.

Al Hagan, head of the fire-officers union, said he's alarmed.

"I'm led to believe that the numbers for those cancers across all ranks in the Fire Department of people who worked at Ground Zero is up significantly, and we're all very concerned about it, as are our families," he said.

Steve Cassidy, president of the firefighters union, said Ground Zero's "toxic stew" has proven lethal.

"It's a fact that New York City firefighters are dying of cancer in record numbers," he said. "We have buried 10 firefighters in just the last 15 weeks, seven with cancer. On Sept. 10, 2001, they were young, healthy firefighters."

FDNY Lt. Randy Wiebicke of Ladder Co. 1, who raced to the Twin Towers after the attacks, died March 2 from an aggressive form of multiple myeloma.

"I've seen so many firemen and cops at the hospital," said his widow, Madeline.

She said Wiebicke worked nonstop the first few days on the WTC pile and at least two 24-hour shifts a week for months.

"He came home with his gear, car and everything covered in gray dust," she recalled.

In 2007, doctors at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, which monitors WTC responders other than FDNY, noted blood cancers like multiple myeloma, which normally strikes in the 60s or 70s, among relatively young cops.

The state Health Department has confirmed that 345 Ground Zero workers have died of various cancers as of last June.

Grim toll

The state Health Department is studying 345 cancer deaths of 9/11 responders as of June 2010. A breakdown of the most common cancers and the number of deaths attributed to them:


* Digestive organs (esophageal, stomach, colon, liver, pancreas): 97
* Respiratory (lung, larynx): 96
* Blood cell (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma, leukemia): 49
* Urinary tract: 19
* Brain: 18