9/11 cancer study needs urgencyEditorial
July 29, 2011
It's a shame there isn't enough evidence yet to determine whether the noxious dust at Ground Zero caused cancer. That was the conclusion federal officials reported
Tuesday, disappointing 9/11 rescue and recovery workers with cancer who, for the time being, don't qualify for money for medical treatment and compensation for their travails.
Those who rushed into harm's way after 9/11 and are sick as a result earned the nation's gratitude and deserve help sooner rather than later. But before spending billions of taxpayer dollars, the link between cancer and the dust and fumes at the World Trade Center site has to be scientifically established. That hasn't happened yet, according to Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Out of respect for first-responders and empathy with the plight of the sick, it would be good if some sort of temporary compensation could be arranged to see those in dire medical or financial need through until a Ground Zero cancer link is either proved or disproved. But that's doesn't seem realistic.
It took a decade of political combat to win congressional approval of the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Named for New York City Police Officer James Zadroga, who died of respiratory disease in 2006, the law provides $4.3 billion for the care and compensation of sick first-responders and finally took effect in January.
The current Congress is preoccupied with reducing federal spending, deficits and debt. It's not likely to revisit the 9/11 compensation issue before existing funding lapses in five years.
Fortunately the law includes both funds and a process to review existing studies, and to analyze data collected since 2003 when officials began systematically monitoring the health of first-responders. It also authorizes officials to add other diseases to the respiratory conditions initially covered if a link to the World Trade Center dust is firmly established. Another review of the cancer data is scheduled for early next year.
Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), Peter King (R-Seaford) and Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), sponsors of the Zadroga law, said in a joint statement it's good that Tuesday's announcement is not the last word.
There is anecdotal evidence that a suspiciously large number of first-responders have cancer. That suggests a link to the dust may exist. But cancer is widespread in the nation's general population, so even if a higher than usual incidence among first-responders is documented, that won't be enough to establish cause and effect.
Officials should move as quickly as possible to answer the complex questions involved in making that key determination.
First-responders with an array of respiratory illnesses already qualify for federal compensation, and 10,000 who sued New York City share in a $700-million settlement from 2010. But about 90,000 people answered the call at Ground Zero in the months after 9/11. Officials need to determine quickly if some developed cancer as a result of that selflessness. Money can't give them their health back, but it's the best we can do.