Were Severe Personal Injuries Such As Cancer Caused By 9/11?

related film: Dust to Dust – The Health Effects of 9/11

by  Ira M Maurer    source: Maurer Law Firm Blog     Oct 17, 2011

In July of 2011, federal health officials basically stated there is little or no scientific evidence of a link between cancer and the contaminants police, firefighters and other first responders were exposed to at the World Trade Center site of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York. As a result, the Victim Compensation Fund has been denying claims for medical costs for treatment of severe personal injuries such as cancer.

It is hardly surprising that federal officials refuse to acknowledge the obvious connection. In fact, I recall when former New Jersey Governer/former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Todd Whitman came out shortly after 9/11 and stated in substance that the air “was safe to breathe” at the 9/11 site. In 2007, in an appearance before Congress, Whitman reportedly defended her record and refused to express regret for assuring residents and workers the air around Lower Manhattan was safe. She also reportedly denied her remarks were made as a result of political pressure from the Bush White House. However, Whitman reportedly “admitted she had not read the clinical reports from the Mount Sinai Medical Center’s World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program. A Mount Sinai study last year found seventy percent of around ten thousand Ground Zero workers developed new or worsened respiratory problems” (http://www.democracynow.org/).

A federal law, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, enacted by Congress last year, provides health care, medical monitoring, and financial compensation for emergency response, recovery, and cleanup workers at Ground Zero who subsequently developed certain conditions, including respiratory illnesses, mental health disorders, and injuries caused by heavy lifting and repetitive stress. But the act excludes individuals who are diagnosed with cancer. Instead, it instructs the World Trade Center Health Program administrator to periodically review scientific and medical evidence to determine whether to add cancer to the list of covered conditions.

The recently completed first review found concluded there was little evidence to support adding cancer to the conditions list. Reviewers found only five peer-reviewed articles published so far on cancer among people exposed to contaminants at Ground Zero, and each article drew different conclusions. However, the report pointed out that “the current absence of published scientific and medical findings . . . does not indicate evidence of the absence of a causal association.”

In the environmental tort world, science tells us that the 10-year anniversary is just the beginning because cancer is a latent disease, where there’s a delay between when a person is exposed to a carcinogen and becomes symptomatic. It’s only recently that people are beginning to receive cancer diagnoses.

Final regulations to implement the Zadroga Act are expected in September, and the Victim Compensation Fund will begin processing claims in October. A second review of the scientific and medical literature pertaining to cancer is expected by the middle of next year.

Yesterday it was reported in the New York Times that “a new study says firefighters who toiled in the wreckage of the World Trade Center in 2001 were 19 percent more likely to develop cancer than those who were not there.” This is the strongest evidence to date of a possible link between work at ground zero and cancer. The study, published in the British medical journal, Lancet (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)60989-6/fulltext) included “almost 10,000 New York City firefighters, most of whom were exposed to the caustic dust and smoke created by the fall of the twin towers. The findings indicate an ‘increased likelihood for the development of any type of cancer,’ said Dr. David J. Prezant, the chief medical officer for the New York Fire Department, who led the study.”

The problem, which personal injury attorneys well understand, is that what may seem obvious does not necessarily translate into admissible evidence in court. The U.S. Supreme Court, in the seminal Daubert case, made federal district court judges the “gatekeepers” of expert testimony. Experts are not allowed to testify that there is a cause and effect relationship in cases unless their opinions are consistent with peer-reviewed published medical/scientific literature. The Lancet study will provide some assistance in establishing the scientific basis for a connection between 9/11 exposure and cancer, but more studies providing similar results will be required.

For information on the World Trade Center Health Program, visit www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/wtc.

Blog entry by Ira M. Maurer, Esq. for The Maurer Law Firm, PLLC

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