14 Years Later, Here’s What We Know about 9/11 and Cancer (2022)

The link has become increasingly clear—justas victim funding is set to expire.

Aria Bendix City Lab

In late August, a New Jersey woman named Marcy Borders became one of the 8 million individuals worldwideto die from cancer each year. Borders was best known for standing among the rubble after the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, an image that eventually landed her the nickname “Dust Lady.” The mass of grey dust covering her body from head to toe—covering, even the string of pearls around her neck—catapulted Borders to instant recognition.

14 Years Later, Here’s What We Know about 9/11 and Cancer (1)

Firefighters wade through a cloud of dust and debris at Ground Zero. Stan Honda / AP Images

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It was also, just maybe, what ultimately killed her.

After the Twin Towers fell, a layer of dust and debris coated Manhattan. Hidden among that cloudy air, inhaled by survivors and first responders alike, were carcinogenic particles and chemicals—asbestos, fiberglass, mercury, and benzene, among others. The Natural Resources Defense Councilestimatesthat 300 to 400 tons of asbestos fibers were used to construct the World Trade Center.

Still, just a week after the attack, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told the public there was no long-term danger to their health. “I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C., that their air is safe to breath[e],” EPA Administrator Christie Whitmansaid at the time. But then people began to fall ill.

In 2002, Dr. David Prezant of the New York City Fire Department,a pulmonary disease specialist,coined the term “World Trade Center cough” after 9/11 firefighters started to develop chronic respiratory illnesses. From 2001 to 2004, the federal government established aVictim Compensation Fundfor all those physically harmed or killed as a result of the tragedy. In 2011, 10 years after the attacks, Congress reactivated the fund via theJames Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act—named after an NYPD officer and first responder who died of respiratory disease—in addition to establishing a new World Trade Center Health Program. Two years later, officials finally added 50 different types of cancer to the list of diseases eligible for compensation.

TheWTC Health Programis set to expire next month,and the Victim Compensation Fund is set to expire in October 2016, unless Congress decides topledge more money. Not only would an end to funding mean an end to 9/11-related cancer treatment and compensation, but it would discontinue research as well—just as scientists and doctors are on the verge of finding a definitive empirical link between the incident and the illness.

Firefighters wade through a cloud of dust and debris at Ground Zero. (Stan Honda / AP Images)

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The difficulty of finding a connection

Inone of the most comprehensive studies of its kind to date,the New York City Health Department foundno clear associationbetween cancer and the debris at the World Trade Center site. The study,publishedin 2012 in theJournal of American Medical Association, observed 55,778 New York residents who were present at the World Trade Center on the day of the attacks and had enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry. Among those observed, 1,187 had been diagnosed with cancer by the time of the study. When comparing this number to all New York state residents, the study found an increased risk of prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, and myeloma, but ultimately could not connect the diagnoses to 9/11 due to a lack of statistical significance.

Still, the work did not rule out an association. “The presence of carcinogenic agents raises the possibility that exposure to the WTC environment could eventually lead to cancers,” theresearchers wrote.

One of the study’s major caveats was it couldn’t account for the latency period of certain cancers—the time it takes for the illness to develop following exposure.According to the WTC Health Program, strains of cancer like thyroid cancer have about a 2.5-year minimum latency period. But a cancer like mesothelioma, whose main known cause is asbestos exposure, canhave an 11-year minimum latency periodbefore a patient starts exhibiting symptoms.

In all likelihood, this is a conservative estimate. It’s difficult to determine the latency period of mesothelioma due to a number of confounding factors, such as gender or intensity of exposure. But Mary Hessdorfer, executive director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (where I am an unpaid volunteer), has known patients to go 20 or even 50 years without showing symptoms.

This long gap between onset and detection was the driving logic behind the initial decision to add cancer to the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in June 2012. The person responsible for this recommendation,public health administratorDr. John Howard, was appointed by George W. Bush as special coordinator for 9/11-related medical issues following the attacks. “You don’t want to wait 20 to 30 years to get a definitive answer,” HowardtoldThe New York Timesback in 2012.

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A rescue unit in the Bronx helps to clean up the city following the attacks. (HO Old / REUTERS)

As evidence mounts, compensation has lingered

Fourteen years after the attacks, researchers are closer than ever to arriving at that answer.

In 2013,Environmental Health Perspectivespublished a studythat found more conclusive evidence of a link between cancer and 9/11. Of the 20,984 participants—all World Trade Center rescue and recovery workers—552 were diagnosed with cancer between 9/11 and December 2008. Those who had been highly exposed to carcinogens and pollutants were more likely to be diagnosed. In addition, the study’s authors were surprised to find higher levels of thyroid and prostate cancer than they had originally anticipated.

Dr. Raja Flores, chief of thoracic surgery atMount Sinai Medical Center, one of seven sites affiliated with the WTC Health Program, insists that researchers are just scratching the surface with these findings. There’s no doubt in his mind that we will see a sharp increase in 9/11-related cancers over the next 30 years.

As of lst year, there have been more than 2,500reported cancer casesamong World Trade Center rescuers and responders. These cancers span the full gamut—thyroid, prostate, lung, pancreatic, leukemia, multiple myeloma. Thelist goes on, though Flores thinks it wise to focus on the big three: esophageal cancer, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

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By 2014, the Victim Compensation Fund hadawarded a sumof $50.5 million to a mere 115 cancer claimants (though case reviews are ongoing). Only 17 of the claimants were downtown New Yorkers, and five were visitors at the time of the attacks. While the lack of typical citizens among these claimants may point to their reduced exposure compared to first responders, it might also suggest a limited awareness by the victims themselves that they could have a health problem related to 9/11.

Then there are those like Marcy Borders. Last fallshe toldThe Jersey Journalshe suspected her stomach cancer was related to 9/11. But she also said she was struggling to pay her bills for chemotherapy treatment—suggesting that Borders might not have been awarded victim compensation during her lifetime, and that even if she did receive some, it clearly wasn’t enough.

Victim compensation funding is set to expire

Thoughmuch attentionhas been given to the firefighters and first responders afflicted with cancer, the claims of common citizens are more difficult to address. Despite being exposed to the same toxic chemicals and particles, these citizens are likely to be at a reduced risk, given that they did not work directly among the rubble following the attacks. But even New Yorkers who were peripherally exposed to the debris have cause for concern.

“I think we should identify anyone that could have potentially had some exposure down there,” Flores says. “I’d be curious to see what happens to the kids who went to high school down there. … How much were they exposed to it? When did they start school afterwards? Were their young lungs exposed at a time when you’re more likely to have an ill effect from a carcinogen?”

These distressing questions bear further scrutiny, and further screening. Unfortunately, says Flores, testing for 9/11-related cancers like mesothelioma or lung cancer is not as common as screening for respiratory illness or sinus or GI issues, which have more immediate symptoms. Moreover, for 9/11 survivors and first responders toqualify for coverageunder the WTC Health Program, they must alreadyhavedemonstrated symptoms. That puts potential 9/11-related cancer victims in a tragic bind: either they foot the bill themselves for early cancer detection (which is a critical component to survival), or hope they don’t develop symptoms 10, 20, or even 30 years down the line.

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As funding for the program reaches its expiration date, many lawmakers are pushing for extended, long-term compensation for victims. This April a number of federal lawmakers called for apermanent reauthorizationof the James Zadroga Act. Despite reluctance by some members of Congress to fund the reauthorization, which will cost around$400 million annually, Senator Kirsten Gillibrandtold Jon Stewartin July that she expects a vote sometime around September 11. BothGillibrandand Stewart are passionate supporters of theact, with Stewart calling any resistance to it“the most galling example of a legislature removed from the purpose of their job.”

But while the government can vote to extend compensation, its willingness to channel more money toward early cancer detection is likely contingent on researchers confirming a link to 9/11.In the end, New Yorkers exposed to the World Trade Center debris are faced with an awful predicament: Only time will tell if certain cancers manifest as a result of 9/11, but if there is indeed a link, time for these survivors to catch their cancer early is running out.

Marcy Borders is a fitting example of a cancer patient whose fate came too quickly, but the unfortunate reality is that Borders may be an exception. The real mass of 9/11-related cancer deaths is probably yet to come.

FAQs

What type of cancer is caused by 9 11?

The most common cancers were skin cancer and prostate cancer. The World Trade Center Health Program regularly publishes the most commonly certified condition on its website.

How long did it take for the dust to settle after 9 11?

Ten years after the attack, office workers who were exposed to the dust from the towers' collapse were least likely to experience improvements to the respiratory conditions they had suffered. Heavy smokers also showed little improvement in lung function after the attacks.

What was the average age of those who died on 9 11?

The average age of the dead in New York City was 40. In the buildings, the youngest victim was Richard Pearlman, an 18-year-old emergency medical technician, and the oldest was Albert Joseph, a 79-year-old maintenance worker from Morgan Stanley.

Who was the last person saved from 9 11?

The final survivor, Port Authority secretary Genelle Guzman-McMillan, was rescued 27 hours after the collapse of the North Tower.

How did 911 affect pregnancy?

“Residence in the affected area increased prematurity, low birth weight, and admission to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) after birth, especially for boys.” For mothers who were in their first trimester during 9/11, exposure to the dust cloud more than doubled the probability of premature delivery.

Why is called Ground Zero?

Ground Zero originated as a term to describe the site of a nuclear explosion and later was used to refer to the point of any dramatic or violent event. New Yorkers started calling the World Trade Center site Ground Zero shortly after suicide hijackers destroyed the twin towers and killed nearly 3,000 people.

How much money did 9/11 families get?

At the end of the process $7 billion was awarded to 97% of the families. A non-negotiable clause in the acceptance papers for the settlements was that the families were to never file suit against the airlines for any lack of security or otherwise unsafe procedures.

How many people died building the World Trade Center?

In all, 60 workers were killed in construction accidents while the World Trade Center was being built. The topping out ceremony of the North Tower (1 World Trade Center) took place on December 23, 1970, while the South Tower (2 World Trade Center)'s ceremony occurred on July 19, 1971.

How many people died during WWII?

An estimated 40,000,000 to 50,000,000 people died during World War II.

Where did the rubble from the twin towers go?

Cleanup workers trucked most of the building materials and debris from Ground Zero to Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island.

How long does a VCF claim take?

The VCF will then notify you within 48 hours if your request for expedited review has been approved or denied. If approved, the VCF can process your claim, issue your award, and process your payment in as little as 3-4 weeks.

Can Trauma be passed through pregnancy?

As the mother's body is providing the care to the child, any stress the mother experiences (maternal stress) can transfer to the child. If the type of stress is particularly bad, this can cause the child trauma.

What did the pregnant rat study show?

Scientists investigating pregnancies in four generations of rats show that inherited epigenetic effects of stress could affect pregnancies for generations. Researchers from the University of Lethbridge in Canada wanted to investigate how preterm births are influenced by stress.

What is Hiroshima Ground Zero?

The Oxford English Dictionary, citing the use of the term in a 1946 New York Times report on the destroyed city of Hiroshima, defines ground zero as "that part of the ground situated immediately under an exploding bomb, especially an atomic one." The term was military slang, used at the Trinity site where the weapon ...

How deep is the hole at Ground Zero?

Five years after Sept. 11, 2001, ground zero remains a 16-acre, 70-foot-deep hole in the heart of Lower Manhattan.

When did 911 happen year?

How much does the VCF pay for GERD?

Under the Zadroga Act, the VCF payout for GERD and other non-cancer conditions is capped at $90,000, based on the severity of the condition. Since GERD is common among 9/11 responders and survivors, the VCF considers various medications and procedures in connection with GERD to be presumptively compensable expenses.

How do I check my VCF claim status?

If you have questions at any time about the status of your claim, you can call the VCF toll-free Helpline at 1-855-885-1555 or log onto the online system and check your claim status.

How many bodies are in the Hoover Dam?

There are no bodies buried in the concrete. The dam was built in interlocking blocks, built on top of each other as they went. Each block was five feet high. The smallest blocks were about 25 by 25 feet, and the largest blocks were about 25 by 60 feet.

How many workers died building skyscrapers?

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Interesting to note is the seven skyscraper building projects included totaled the least amount of construction worker deaths at just 82. Bridges, which included five projects, followed closely with only 90 worker deaths (although even 90 is still far too many).

Did the Twin Towers sway?

Each of the Twin Towers had 110 floors. Each tower's footprint and floors were approximately an acre in size. On windy days, each tower could sway up to almost 12 inches side to side. There were 43,600 windows in the Twin Towers, equating to more than 600,000 square feet of glass.

What does D-Day stand for?

In other words, the D in D-Day merely stands for Day. This coded designation was used for the day of any important invasion or military operation.

How many black soldiers died in ww2?

A total of 708 African Americans were killed in combat during World War II. In 1945, Frederick C. Branch became the first African-American United States Marine Corps officer.

What were your chances of dying in ww2?

The combat fatality rate fell from 55 to 12 percent between the start of World War II and the most recent conflicts, as did the KIA rate (52 to 5 percent). These were all numbers that confirmed historic studies looking at the big picture.

Were any bodies recovered from Flight 11?

During the recovery effort at the World Trade Center site, workers recovered and identified dozens of remains from Flight 11 victims, but many body fragments could not be identified.

Are there still remains at ground zero?

TWENTY years after the tragedy of 9/11, the remains of more than 1,000 victims still remain unidentified and lying in a repository behind a wall at the Ground Zero memorial.

What happened to the remains of the World Trade Center?

Only a tiny portion of the World Trade Center's massive steel skeleton ended up in the Port Authority's archive: More than a million tons of debris ended up in a landfill in Staten Island, and the city sold 200,000 tons of structural steel in the international scrap metal market.

Who is the falling man's name?

Jonathan Briley

It was adapted into a documentary film by the same name. The article gave the possible identity of the falling man as Jonathan Briley, a 43-year-old sound engineer who worked at Windows on the World.

Which floor did the plane hit the North Tower?

8:46:40: Flight 11 crashes into the north face of the North Tower (1 WTC) of the World Trade Center, between floors 93 and 99. The aircraft enters the tower intact.

Why did the South Tower collapse first?

Engineers suggested that the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed first, even though it was hit by the second plane, because the fireball caused by the crash was larger and because the plane hit the corner of the building, rather than the center, where there is more structural support.

How old is Will Jimeno?

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