Panel Makes Recommendations on WTC Cancer Claims

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The advisory panel charged with examining possible links between World Trade Center dust and cancer has recommended the federal government cover some cancers and not others.

On the proposed list are cancer of the respiratory, digestive and urinary systems, as well as different varieties of breast, skin, mouth, ovary and thyroid cancers. All or most blood, childhood and rare cancers would also be included.

Specifically excluded are prostate, brain and pancreatic cancers.

Debate over the rejected cancers was often intense among panelists. Many of them felt evidence of a cause-and-effect connection between 9/11 exposures and cancer, though thin, was strong enough to recommend coverage. Others felt current research just didn’t make a strong enough case, and using “the precautionary principle” — a way of essentially "erring on the safe side" — would amount to an “over-reach” that would undermine the panel’s scientific credibility.

“Only about 5 percent of all cancer is related to...occupational and environmental exposure,” said Dr. William Rom, a professor of Medicine and Environmental Medicine, at NYU. “I think we should try everything we can to get to that 5 percent. But thinking of the other 95 percent — there’s a lack of scientific evidence for those, and we’re supposed to be a scientific advisory committee.”

“Not everything is covered [by research], because not everything has been explored,” said Susan Sidel, a volunteer World Trade Center responder. “There’s never been the money or the time available to explore all the problems people have.”

At an earlier meeting last month, panelists had already recommended cancer coverage, in general. Wednesday’s meeting, which took place by phone, was to decide whether to vote for all cancers or a list of specific cancer types.

At stake is whether cancer victims who worked at or lived near Ground Zero will be eligible for benefits through the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Law.

That law focused on lung, skin, digestive and other physical problems but specifically said cancer should not be on the list. At the same time, however the law also left open the door to cancer being added later, as scientific evidence emerged, at the discretion of the Centers for the Disease Control.

There were several close votes on the committee, with narrow margins putting breast cancer on and keeping prostate cancer off the covered list. The discussion recapped months evaluating historical research about carcinogens and studies of the World Trade Center site and different groups that worked at or lived near it.

The panel included clinical doctors, scientists from a range of disciplines and people who represent emergency responders and the Lower Manhattan community.

Its final report will be issued next week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which chartered the panel, will then consider the recommendations and issue a decision later this year.