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Mesothelioma added to diseases covered by 9/11 fund


Mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, is among 50 different types of cancer that will be covered by a government health program for first responders and survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.


The decision by Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, clears the way for police, firefighters, rescue workers, volunteers and residents of lower Manhattan who were sickened by exposure to toxins at Ground Zero to receive treatment and compensation through the $4.3 billion Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.


In July 2011, Howard said there was “insufficient evidence” to support adding cancer to the list of diseases that qualified for the government program. In the latest decision, however, Howard cited a 2011 study in the British journal The Lancet that reported that firefighters who worked at Ground Zero were 19 percent more likely to develop cancer.


While there is no scientific evidence yet that links the attacks to cancer, the World Trade Center Health Program Scientific/Technical Advisory Committee, or STAC, recommended earlier this year that more than 30 diseases, including mesothelioma and other cancers, be added to the 9/11 fund. The panel cited “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.”


In his decision, Howard acknowledged that the lack of hard data linking cancer to toxins at the site will present challenges to the fund's administrators. He noted that in the United States, the chance that people will develop cancer during their lifetimes is one in two for men and one in three for women.


“This 'background' rate of cancer development would be expected in responders and survivors even if the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks had never occurred,” Howard wrote. “Determining, then, if the September 11, 2001 exposures are contributing to an additional burden of cancer in responders and survivors is a scientific challenge.”


Moreover, many cancers may not appear until after the deadline for applying for compensation passes in 2016. Mesothelioma, in particular, has a long latency period: symptoms typically do not appear until decades after asbestos exposure.


According to the New York Times, extending the list of diseases covered by the fund will also reduce the compensation to people suffering from lung and respiratory illnesses that are conclusively linked to Ground Zero exposure.


Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and a primary sponsor of the Zadroga Act, told the Times that Howard's decision was nonetheless the correct one.


“I think it’s an important statement that the country’s going to take care of the workers and people who are there to save the lives of the people of the city,” she said.


In addition to mesothelioma, the fund will cover melanoma, leukemia, lymphoma, all childhood cancers and cancers of the lung, breast, colon, kidney, bladder, ovaries, blood, esophagus and urinary tract. Not included were pancreatic, prostate and brain cancers.

A public-review period, expected to take at least two months, is required before Howard's decision becomes final. The filing of claims could begin in August.