Responders to the September 11 attacks have a 15 percent higher rate of cancer than the general population, according to a new study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal.
The study examined data from 20,984 first responders in the seven years after the 9/11 attack, a short time period that the study’s authors say makes the findings more compelling. Since certain cancers often take decades to develop, an increased cancer rate in responders after just seven years could mean many more cases could develop among responders as time passes.
Though the link between cancer and Ground Zero exposure has been historically controversial — federal compensation for 9/11 responders who developed cancer was held up by debates for about a year before being authorized in 2012 — the claim that exposure to Ground Zero toxins resulted in illnesses for responders is widely accepted. Studies have found that rescue workers are likely to suffer from respiratory illnesses, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome — ailments resulting in part from the multitude of harmful substances found in Ground Zero dust and debris. As CNN reported in 2011:
Researchers have reported the presence of hundreds of compounds in ground zero dust, among them known carcinogens. Potential cancer-causing agents such as asbestos that coated the Trade Center buildings’ lower columns, and benzene, a component of jet fuel that caused uncontrollable fires when planes barreled into the twin towers, have been a cancer concern for researchers.
This latest research to link cancer to Ground Zero exposure is consistent with others of its kind: in 2011, a study found firefighters who worked at Ground Zero were 19 percent more likely to develop cancer than firefighters who didn’t. In 2012, a study found a 14 percent increase in cancers among 9/11 responders and people who lived or worked near Ground Zero — a finding that, at the time, was said to be insignificant. Though an increase of 14 to 19 percent isn’t huge, the similarity of the three study’s results makes clear that the link between Ground Zero toxins and cancer could be stronger than previously thought, and should continue to be monitored.
According to the study, thyroid, prostate, and blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma saw some of the highest incidence rates among 9/11 responders. The incidence of thyroid cancer was 239 percent higher than it is in the typical population, while blood cancers were 36 percent higher and prostate cancer was 21 percent higher. Though the $4.3 billion federal compensation fund for 9/11 victims and responders provides coverage for more than 50 types of cancers, prostate cancer is not one of them — a fact that makes the study’s finding on the disease especially significant.