9/11 Health Panel to Consider Cancer Coverage

A panel charged with reviewing possible connections between World Trade Center dust and cancer meets this week to consider whether the disease should be covered under the James Zadroga 9/11 fund.

At stake, potentially, are millions of dollars, both to pay for medical treatment and to compensate people who are ill – or survivors of the deceased — for loss of income.

When the James Zadroga 9/11 World Trade Center Health and Compensation Law passed in late 2010, it stated that only specific groups of people are eligible for help — mainly rescue, recovery and cleanup workers and those who worked and lived and worked in a specific geographic area within Lower Manhattan.

The law further limited that group of people to those with specific illnesses, including a number of respiratory, digestive and muscular conditions.

Cancer, however, was not on the list.

Despite several highly publicized deaths of first responders and Ground Zero workers with cancer, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, the agency charged with scientifically validating the eligibility process, said there was not enough evidence to prove those individual cancer cases were definitely caused by the exposure.

The Zadroga law kept the door open to amending the list of eligible illnesses. It mandated that an ad hoc panel periodically evaluate new research, to see if a stronger connection could be established.

The World Trade Center Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee had one meeting last November to discuss new research linking WTC exposure to cancer. The panel is gathering again Wednesday and Thursday, at a federal office building in Lower Manhattan, to continue the discussion. Members of the public will testify, but the agenda is largely devoted to scientific presentations.

“We’re looking at data and asking whether it’s statistically significant,” said Catherine McVay-Hughes, a Lower Manhattan resident, 9/11 health advocate and one of four non-scientists on the 15-member panel. "They'll be looking at the numbers [and whether they're] statistically significant."

The panel will present its findings to NIOSH in March, and the director of the agency — which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — later in the year will determine whether cancer should be added to the eligibility list.

The meeting comes amid calls for the city police department to release data on police officers who served at Ground Zero who have been stricken with cancer. The NYPD has cited privacy concerns, but other agencies, including the fire department, have analyzed and released medical research without compromising the identities of individual responders.