New Yorkers and first responders at risk of mesothelioma and other cancers because of 9/11 toxic exposures are now in line for compensation if they need it.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) this week added mesothelioma and 49 other cancers to the list of conditions covered under a $4.3 billion dollar compensation fund created by the 2010 Zadroga Act. The fund was set up to cover medical bills and other expenses for people who contracted serious health conditions after the 9/11 attacks. Until this week, cancer, including mesothelioma, was not on the list of covered conditions.
Hundreds of rescue workers including police, firefighters and EMS workers, as well as people in and around the World Trade Center towers during the attacks were exposed to clouds of hazardous smoke and dust. A Mount Sinai School of Medicine analysis of the dust and debris found toxic levels of many carcinogens, including asbestos. But, because mesothelioma and other cancers can take years to develop, cancer was not one of the conditions originally associated with 9/11.
Asbestos was a common component in insulation and building materials through the 1970’s. An estimated 400 tons of the slow-working but especially hazardous toxin was used to build the World Trade Center. Dust containing microscopic fibers of the mineral may seem innocuous, but, once inhaled or ingested, those fibers can trigger a chain of events inside the body that can lead to mesothelioma as many as 40 years later.
The decision to extend coverage to mesothelioma victims was made by NIOSH director Dr. John Howard on the advice of a 15-member World Trade Center Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. Although no 9/11-related mesothelioma cases have been reported yet, because of the level of asbestos at the site, they are likely to occur in the coming years, especially among those with the highest levels of exposure. Unfortunately, many of them will still not quality for compensation, despite this week’s ruling, since the deadline for filing claims is just two years away.
Gendar and Lemire, “Zadroga Act will cover 50 cancers after landmark ruling”, June 11, 2012, New York Daily News.
“World Trade Center Health Program; Addition of Certain Types of Cancer to the List of WTC-Related Health Conditions”, Department of Health and Human Services notice.