Cancer Not Increased by Exposure to World Trade Center 9/11 Attack Debris


The New York Times is reporting a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looks at the cancer incidence rate among more than 55,000 people exposed to the dust and debris produced by the fall of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Earlier this year, advocates persuaded Congress to add 50 different cancers to the list of ailments for which they can receive compensation from a fund set up the federal government. The new study looks at the incidence of 23 different cancers. The Times summarizes:

Six months after the federal government added cancer to the list of sicknesses covered by the $4.3 billion World Trade Center fund, a New York City health department study has found no clear link between cancer and the dust, debris and fumes released by the burning wreckage of the twin towers.

The study was by far the largest to date. It examined 55,700 people, including rescue and recovery workers who were present at the World Trade Center site, on barges or at the Staten Island landfill where debris was taken in the nine months after Sept. 11, 2001, as well as residents of Lower Manhattan, students, workers and passers-by exposed on the day of the terrorist attacks.

Over all, there was no increase in the cancer rate of those studied compared with the rate of the general population, researchers concluded after looking at 23 cancers from 2003 to 2008. The prevalence of three cancers — multiple myeloma, prostate and thyroid — was significantly higher, but only in rescue and recovery workers and not in the rest of the exposed population. But since the number of actual cases was small and the subjects of the study may have been screened more frequently for cancer than other people on average, the researchers noted that it was too early to draw any correlation to time spent at ground zero.

In one of many counterintuitive findings, the incidence of cancer was not higher among those who were exposed more intensely to the toxic substances than among those who were exposed less.

The lack of clear evidence of a link between cancer and the debris from Sept. 11 casts into doubt the decision by the federal government in June to add 50 different types of cancer to the list of illnesses covered by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, signed by President Obama in early 2011.

The report is actually quite good news since it suggests that people who were exposed to debris from the World Trade Center's collapse are no more likely to come down the cancer than are the rest of us. Of course, if one happens to be male the lifetime risk of cancer is 1 in 2, and if female, it's 1 in 3. It also good to keep in mind that the American Cancer Society estimates:

Exposure to carcinogenic agents in occupational, community, and other settings is thought to account for a relatively small percentage of cancer deaths – about 4% from occupational exposures and 2% from environmental pollutants (man-made and naturally occurring).