The 70,000 surviving firefighters, police officers and other first responders who raced to the World Trade Center after the attacks of September 11, 2001 will be entitled to free monitoring and treatment for some 50 forms of cancer, reports Reuters.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety announced the change on the eve of the attacks’ 11th anniversary.
“The publication of this final rule marks an important step in the effort to provide needed treatment and care to 9/11 responders and survivors through the WTC Health Program,” NIOSH director Dr. John Howard said in a statement.
The act, which also covers responders and survivors of the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon outside Washington, was signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 2, 2011.
The institute announced last June that it favored expanding the existing $4.3 billion Sept. 11 health program to include people with 50 types of cancer.
According to Newser, that move followed years of lobbying by construction workers, firefighters, police officers, office cleaners and others who fell ill in the decade after the terror attack, which destroyed the 110-story twin towers, spewing toxic dust.
It “marks an important step in the effort to provide needed treatment and care to 9/11 responders and survivors,” said Dr. John Howard, administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program established by the Zadroga law.
“We have urged from the very beginning that the decision whether or not to include cancer be based on science; Dr. Howard’s decision, made after thorough consideration of the latest available research and data, will continue to ensure that those who have become ill due to the heinous attacks on 9/11 get the medical care they need and deserve,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Cancers to be covered include lung, colorectal, breast, bladder, leukaemia, melanoma and all childhood cancers.
The program had already covered respiratory diseases such as asthma and pulmonary fibrosis, mental disorders including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as well as musculoskeletal conditions.
Illnesses related to the September 11 attacks have caused an estimated 1,000 deaths for more than a decade. Last week, the New York City Fire Department added nine more names into a memorial wall honoring firefighters who died from illnesses after their work at Ground Zero, bringing the total to 64.
However, there is still little scientific evidence of elevated cancer rates connected to World Trade Center dust or other toxins at the ground zero recovery site in lower Manhattan. Scientists say there is little research to prove that exposure to the toxic dust plume caused even one kind of cancer.
Survivors, including local business owners and residents, were exposed to a complex mixture of chemical agents, including human carcinogens.
That mix included combustion products from 20,000 gallons of jet fuel, 100,000 tons of organic debris, and 100,000 gallons of heating and diesel oil.
Scientists knew from the start that responders were exposed to toxic chemicals, but it was not obvious they had caused cancer.
For many cancers, the time between exposure to a carcinogen and the appearance of a malignancy can be 20 years or more. That has cast doubt on whether cancers detected in the years after the attacks were caused by exposure to the toxic chemicals.
Questions about whether the dust truly caused cancer were a reason Congress did not include it in the initial list of covered illnesses.
“Nobody knows to this day what was in that cloud,” said Mount Sinai’s Crane. “Trying to assess the risk from an unknown exposure is incredibly difficult: we don’t know what people actually breathed.”
About 60,000 people already have enrolled in 9/11 health programs for those who lived or worked within the disaster zone. Up to 25,000 more could join before the program closes.