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Ground Zero health fund will cover mesothelioma, other cancers

A panel of health experts says mesothelioma, a rare cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs and abdomen, should be added to a government health program for first responders and survivors of the World Trade Center attacks.


The World Trade Center Health Program Scientific/Technical Advisory Committee, or STAC, says medical evidence now supports including mesothelioma and more than 30 other diseases in the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which set aside $4.3 billion for people sickened by exposure to toxins at Ground Zero.


Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, which until the 1970s was widely used to make building and construction materials. Researchers who analyzed samples of dust unleashed when the World Trade Center collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, found asbestos as well as cement, gypsum, glass fibers and metal particles, including lead.


Philip Landrigan, dean for global health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told ABC News that breathing the dust “would be like inhaling powdered lye or Drano.”


The Zadroga act was stalled for months before Congress approved the legislation, which President Obama signed in December, 2010. In July of 2011, Howard, director of the World Trade Center Health Program, issued a preliminary review of medical data that said there was “insufficient evidence” to support adding cancer to the list of diseases that qualified for the government program.


Two months later, however, a study in the British medical journal The Lancet reported that firefighters who worked at Ground Zero in the wake of the terrorist attacks were 19 percent more likely to develop cancer.


The STAC recommendation followed two days of public hearings hosted by the committee in February. A letter detailing the panel’s work said the recommendation to include cancer was based “primarily on the presence of approximately 70 known and potential carcinogens in the smoke, dust, volatile and semi-volatile contaminants identified at the World Trade Center site.”


The letter noted that 15 substances are known human carcinogens, and 37 are classified as “reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans” by the National Toxicology Program. Others are considered as “probable and possible carcinogens” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.


The letter concluded, “Although acknowledging some lack of certainty in the evidence for targeting specific organs or organ site groupings as WTC-related, the majority of the committee agreed that recommending the specified cancer sites and site groupings was based on a sound scientific rationale and the best evidence available to date.”