9/11 Cancer Study Pits Scientists Against First Responders

A review says there's "very little" evidence linking cancer to 9/11 exposure

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A controversial decision by the World Trade Center Health Program to not cover the cancer treatment of 9/11 first responders has triggered an emotional conflict between the responders and the scientists behind a recent scientific review. On Tuesday, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health published a review finding there is "very little" evidencing linking cancer and the release of toxins in the air when the World Trade Center collapsed, which led to the fund's decision to withhold compensation. As a result, first responders and their supporters are clashing with the review process. Here's who's speaking out:

John Feal  The founder of the Feal Good Foundation who developed serious respiratory problems after 9/11 went on CNN today opposing the review. "I don't need someone with 12 years of college to tell me there's no evidence... The people that have passed away is enough proof already. We've had ten years of people getting sicker and dying. I don't need scientific research. The numbers are staggering. It's alarming and they know that. Dr. Howard knows that."

Dr. John Howard  The director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health told the New York Times that "there was very little evidence to go on, as there have only been 18 published research studies on the attack that even mentioned cancer, and only five of those were peer-reviewed."  In the report, the scientists warned that “Drawing causal inferences about exposures resulting from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the observation of cancer cases in responders and survivors is especially challenging since cancer is not a rare disease."

Reggie Hillaire  The New York police officer who, in 2005, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer couldn't fathom the study's results.  "I've met so many people who were police officers at the same time who have these cancers, and we're all about the same age." Doctors told him that developing his cancer at the age of 34 was "really, really rare so young."

Thomas Cahill The 69-year-old scientist who has taught physics and carried out air-quality research at the University of California at Davis was enlisted by Esquire to determine the severity of the allegedly cancer-causing toxins that filled the air after 9/11. The full details of the experiment are here. He found that the toxins were "Construction materials, for the most part: cement dust from the square-acre floors of the tower; aggregate materials, which basically means particulates of rock and gravel; and drywall, which is made of a calcium-based substance called gypsum... The finest particles--the ones that invade your deep lung, never to leave--were also mostly gypsum. And gypsum is safe for human consumption. Matter of fact, it's used to enrich bread with calcium, can be found in toothpaste and blackboard chalk, and helps coagulate tofu." Cahill said "Basically, you just got a big blast of drywall. Which is harmless."

Chuck Schumer  The New York Democrat labeled the report "premature" saying its revision will "demonstrate that those who were exposed to the witches' brew of toxins at ground zero have developed serious illnesses, including cancer, and deserve justice."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.