Chief Leader - September 13, 2011by FLORA FAIR
Following a report that showed firefighters exposed to toxins at Ground Zero were more likely to develop cancer, Federal lawmakers Sept. 7 petitioned to have the illness added to the list of diseases eligible for Federal medical coverage.
U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, Peter King, Charles Rangel, and Steve Israel, all sponsors of the $4.3-billion James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act that became law in January, joined union leaders and 9/11 responders to announce the petition, asking National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Director Dr. John Howard to include coverage for cancer under Zadroga. He has 60 days to respond.
'Urgent Need to Act Quickly' "We are not doctors, we are members of Congress," Representative Maloney said during a press conference, adding that the full effects of 9/11 are still emerging a decade after the attacks. "We have a very urgent need to act quickly now, because people are suffering."
The petition was prompted by the study, released in the Sept. 3 issue of The Lancet medical journal. Researchers from the FDNY--including its Chief Medical Officer--and medical centers involved in the World Trade Center Health Program conducted the seven-year analysis of firefighters who were exposed to toxic debris at the WTC site. They compared nearly 9,000 exposed firefighters to firefighters who had no exposure to Ground Zero, and to men of comparable health in the general population. Based on this research, the study found that WTC-exposed firefighters were 19 percent more likely to develop cancer than non-exposed firefighters, and 10 percent more likely to get cancer than U.S. men in their health demographic. It also found an elevated risk of specific cancers such as melanoma, thyroid and prostate cancer, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
'Feet Drag, People Die'
"People all around us are getting sick, some tragically dying," Representative Nadler said. "For those who are sick with cancer, or whose colleagues, friends or loved ones are sick, it's particularly infuriating to hear doubts or foot-dragging about the obvious links between 9/11 and cancer." He cited cancer's long latency periods and a lack of peer-reviewed studies for the exclusion of cancer in the initial Zadroga bill, but emphasized a provision in the bill mandating periodic reviews of cancer and said that the new evidence is "compelling."
In July, Dr. Howard announced that cancers would not be covered by the Zadroga Act because there was only scant evidence available in peer-reviewed studies. This lack of coverage applied to both the health program and the Victim Compensation Fund administered under Zadroga.
"We have always known that many of the chemicals in that toxic brew that people were breathing cause cancer--this is not in question," Mr. Nadler said. "Now we have the first peer-reviewed studies proving this. We'll have more."
The Uniformed Firefighters and Uniformed Fire Officers Associations also joined the call for an immediate change to Zadroga. "The cancer study led by Dr. David Prezant conclusively proves that New York City Firefighters who worked at Ground Zero have a 32-percent higher cancer rate than firefighters who did not participate in the response and clean up at the 22-acre attack site," said UFA President Steve Cassidy in a statement. "The FDNY has also seen a significant uptick in recent years of firefighters with cancer who were not included in the study."
'More Dangerous Than We Thought'
The number Mr. Cassidy refers to in the study does not account for surveillance bias correction--which corrects for higher incidence found in a particular group because it's more carefully screened and studied based on certain assumptions than its comparison group. When accounting for surveillance bias, the number is 19 percent. Mr. Cassidy said the UFA is calling on Special Master Sheila Birnbaum and Dr. Howard to immediately include cancer coverage for firefighters, who can easily prove their time and exposure at the site.
"Our members and their families are already deeply concerned of the dangers that Firefighters and fire officers face every day, but this study proves that those dangers far exceed those on the fire ground," said UFOA President Alexander Hagan. "You can come home from a fire safely and yet not be safe, given the staggering results of Dr. Prezant's cancer study."
Union leaders and lawmakers also said that the incidence of cancers has increased dramatically in the years since 2008, the cut-off date for data in the study. "We worked on our hands and knees in a toxic cloud," said Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. "Common sense told us that was going to lead to disease, and cancer, and then death...Now science is telling us that cancer is caused by the toxins we were exposed to."
'We're Not Playing Games'
Medical monitoring and treatment under the WTC Health Program is already underway, and the VCF opens for claims in October.
Among the last to speak at the press conference was John Feal, founder of the 9/11-responder advocacy group, FealGood Foundation, and a responder himself. "The people that spoke before me need to be politically correct, but I do not," he said. "I do not need a doctor or a scientist to tell me and the people that I represent that 9/11 did or did not cause cancer. I have been to 54 funerals in the last five years--52 of them have been 9/11-related cancer...The Bush Administration did not allow for scientific research, did not allow for data-collection on these illnesses...The report that came out by Dr. Prezant--that just represents firefighters, but there's also cops and construction workers and volunteers. So those numbers are a lot higher. So here's what gonna happen: I'm gonna fill the buses again--guaranteed. By the end of September, beginning of October, the Tea Party, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are going to see my face again...We're not playing games. We will get cancer added to this bill and we will not take no for an answer."