New York Daily News

August 13, 2009 

Editorials


New horror for heroes

First proof of higher cancer rate among World Trade Center responders

The health care nightmare of many of America's bravest men and women is getting worse.

For the first time, experts who treat World Trade Center responders have reported on an unusual cancer among their patients. It is a finding the doctors had hoped they'd never see but feared was inevitable.

The study, published by physicians with the Mount Sinai World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, describes eight cases of multiple myeloma — a serious but manageable blood cancer — among 28,000 patients who breathed the poisonous air at Ground Zero. Four of those cases were in patients under age 45, a rate four times what is expected in the general population.

The numbers are small, but they are impossible to ignore.

Normally, multiple myeloma is found in four out of every 100,000 people. It is considered an older people's disease and generally takes 10 to 20 years to develop.

There was nothing normal about the illnesses of the four WTC patients, all of them law enforcement officers.

One patrolled the perimeter of Ground Zero for six months after the terrorist attack and was diagnosed in 2005 at age 34. The second was caught in the dust cloud on 9/11, worked for 218 days on The Pile and at Fresh Kills landfill, among other duty, and was diagnosed in 2007 at age 37. The third sifted debris and did morgue work at Ground Zero for five months and was diagnosed in 2005 at 40. The fourth worked rescue and recovery and was diagnosed in 2004 at 43.

All were exposed to a chemical stew that included benzene, which has been linked to blood cancers. All became ill within just a few years.

The authors note that their study does not prove cause and effect. But it does prove, again, the overwhelming need to keep a close eye on all those who had sustained exposure to the toxins released when the towers fell.

Experts have documented tens of thousands of cases of WTC-related lung ailments and posttraumatic stress. Soon, they may be grappling with even worse illnesses.

That's why Congress must come through with steady health care and compensation funding for those selfless Americans who sacrificed their health for their country. Once, they were the forgotten victims of 9/11. They must be able to rest assured they won't be forgotten again.