New York Times
Feb. 13, 2012


Police Union Seeks Data for Cancer Links to 9/11

By COLIN MOYNIHAN

On Sept. 11, 2001, Police Officer Alonzo Harris rushed to the World Trade Center to try to evacuate people from the burning towers. When the first tower collapsed, he dove beneath a parked car as thick plumes of dust and debris blotted out the sun. Later, he said, he sealed the grit-covered uniform he had worn that day in a plastic bag.

On Sunday, police union leaders and elected officials displayed that uniform as they called upon Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to release police medical records to a panel that is studying possible links between cancer and contaminants unleashed by the destruction of the trade center.

Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, urged the city to turn over, to a panel of medical experts at Mount Sinai Medical Center, departmental records naming officers who had sought medical attention over the past 10 years for ailments that could be connected to contaminants present at the trade center site.

"We have men and women who are dying of exotic cancers," Mr. Lynch said. "When you work in a toxic cloud at the end of that service it will result in cancer."

Al O'Leary, a union spokesman, said the Mount Sinai panel was expected to recommend to federal officials by the end of the week whether the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act should be expanded to cover cancer treatment.

The law, which took effect last year and is named for a New York police detective who took part in operations at ground zero and died in 2006, amended the Public Health Service Act to extend and improve protections and services to those affected by the terrorist attack.

Although the Zadroga act provides help for respiratory ailments, cancer is not on the list of illnesses covered by the act. Yet the law requires the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to conduct periodic reviews of studies to assess whether to add illnesses to the list.

Mr. O'Leary said that 65 officers who worked at ground zero had died of cancer, and that nearly 300 more had received a cancer diagnosis.

"I've never heard them say once that they guarantee that that information will be released," Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, said at the briefing at the police union headquarters in Lower Manhattan, which was also attended by other politicians and an official of the fire officers' union. "I have never heard those words from the mayor or anyone in authority in this administration, so to me it's a smokescreen."

The city "has been and will continue to be a peerless advocate for the health of first responders," said Samantha Levine, a spokeswoman for the mayor. "There is a good-faith effort on both sides to share this data; it is simply a question of working out privacy concerns, and that takes some time."

Officer Harris, who has been on the force 19 years, said that at the end of the "dark, dim day of Sept. 11" he sealed his uniform in plastic and kept it in a closet. Though ulcers formed on his lungs, he does not have cancer.

Last year, he sent the uniform to the R. J. Lee Group, an industrial forensics company in Monroeville, Pa. Laboratory tests there found evidence that he had been exposed to heavy metals, dioxins and PCB's, said Richard J. Lee, the head of the company. Mr. O'Leary said that Officer Harris had the uniform examined on his own and that the company did not charge him.

Assemblyman Micah Kellner, of Manhattan, and State Senator Diane J. Savino, of Staten Island, said that they were sponsoring a bill in the State Legislature that would compel the city to turn the information over to the Mount Sinai panel.