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50 cancers to be covered by 9/11 health fund

A federal health official cleared the way for lung, breast, and other cancers to be included in a $4.3 billion fund compensating people exposed to the toxic debris and smoke after the attacks.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor on

On Friday, a federal health official cleared the way for 50 different types of cancer to be covered by a $4.3 billion fund set up to compensate and treat people exposed to the toxic smoke, dust, and fumes after the 9/11 attacks, New York Times reports.

Thousands of people have claimed that their cancers were caused by their exposure to dust cloud and debris – that could double the number of people treated by the fund to 110,000. You can read the decision [pdf] here.

The US may spend between $65 million to $147 million through 2016 to pay for the medical care of responders, residents, and passers-by stricken with cancer, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

The 50 types of cancer included cover 14 broad categories of the disease. Approved are some of the most common cancers, including lung, breast, colon, trachea, esophageal, kidney, bladder, skin, thyroid, blood, and ovarian cancers. Rare childhood cancers were also included. Pancreas, brain, and prostate cancers were excluded.

Until the decision, the only ailments approved for compensation were mainly respiratory and digestive ones: asthma, acid reflux disease, and chronic sinus irritation. According to New York Times:

The decision, by Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, comes despite a current absence of evidence linking the attack to cancer, causing some skepticism among epidemiologists. It also reduces the amount of money for people suffering from ailments more conclusively linked to the Sept. 11 attacks, namely lung and other respiratory sicknesses.

In his report, Howard cited a New York Fire Department study published last fall in The Lancet showing that firefighters exposed to ground zero toxic substances had about 20% higher rate of cancer than firefighters who weren’t exposed.

According to the scientific and technical advisory committee, 70 known or potential carcinogens – including asbestos, arsenic, and formaldehyde – had been found in the smoke, dust, and fumes from the disaster. And 15 of those were known to cause cancer in humans; 37 were ‘reasonably anticipated’ to cause cancer.

However, it’ll be difficult (or impossible) to separate people who developed cancer as a result of ground zero from those who would have gotten the disease anyway. Many diagnoses will likely be made years after the deadline for applying for compensation passes in 2016.

There has been concern that adding cancer to the list of covered conditions could put a severe financial strain on the program's limited resources, NPR reports. Congress capped funding for the program at $1.55 billion for treatment and $2.78 billion for compensation payments.

The ruling includes sites near World Trade Center, at the Pentagon in suburban Washington, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The cancers won’t be officially added to the list of covered sicknesses until after a period of public comment and review that could last several months.

[Via New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, NPR]

Image: smoke plume over Manhattan / NASA Goddard via Wiki

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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