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No Clear Link Between 9/11 and Cancer, Study Finds

By Jill Colvin | December 18, 2012 6:46pm

NEW YORK CITY — There is no clear link between the toxic dust that billowed from Ground Zero on 9/11 and many of the cancers now covered by the Zadroga Act, according to a major new study set to be published Wednesday.

The study, which is the largest to date, looked at nearly 56,000 people enrolled in the city's World Trade Center Health registry, including first responders, recovery workers and Lower Manhattan residents, and found no significant difference in overall cancers rates compared to people who were not exposed, as of 2008.

The study comes just months after a federal commission voted to include about 50 forms of cancer — including cancers affecting the respiratory and digestive systems, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, melanoma, leukemia and lymphoma — on the list of illnesses covered by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act and its $4.3 billion fund.

However, the authors of the new study did find significantly elevated rates of three types of cancer — prostate, thyroid and multiple myeloma — but only among rescue and recovery workers.

Notably, the study found that rates were not impacted by the extent to which workers and residents had been exposed to the dust and wreckage of the Twin Towers, which included numerous known and suspected carcinogens, including asbestos to benzene, the study said.

Nonetheless, the authors wrote the findings “should be interpreted with caution” because it can take many years for some cancers to develop and some of the incidence rates were extremely small.

The authors of the study include doctors from the city and state's Health Department, the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois.

City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley told the New York Times he felt it was too soon to make any definitive conclusions about the link between 9/11 and cancer.

“Cancers take 20 years to develop,” he told the paper, “and we might see something different 20 years down the line.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor said that, while the study did not find evidence of an increase in overall cancer incidents, the results suggest “that close surveillance is warranted and longer follow-up is required for longer-latency cancers.”

The study, which will be published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, runs counter to several other findings.

During testimony delivered in front of the federal advisory panel in February, Dr. Philip Landrigan, a dean at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said a yet-to-be published study by his team had revealed a 14 percent increase in cancer rates among rescue workers, including significant increases in prostate, thyroid and certain blood cancers.

"I think that we’ve reached a point... [where] we can say with a high degree of certainty that the exposures that the responders experienced down there at Ground Zero and the other World Trade Center sites, we can reasonably anticipate that those exposures are going to cause cancer," Landrigan said at the time.

An earlier study released by the New York Fire Department found that firefighters working at the site were 19 percent more likely to develop cancer than those who weren’t there, the Times reported.

But John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, an advocacy group for 9/11 recovery workers, said that, after attending 61 friends' funerals over the past five years — 58 of whom he said had suffered from cancer — it doesn’t take a study for him to know the connection is crystal clear.

“It doesn’t really frame the magnitude and the devastation caused to our community by cancer,” he said of the latest study, arguing that he'd seen a huge uptick in cases since the study ended in 2008.

“Science has to catch up with reality,” he said.

Still, Feal said that he felt the findings showing a connection between the toxic dust and three types of cancer marked a step in the right direction.

“I think it gives the 9/11 community vindication,” he said