9/11, 10 Years Later: Rolls Of The Sick Are Still Growing – And Many Won’t Get Any Better


9-11-firemen-flagTen years after 9/11, medical experts still don’t know if exposure to toxic air at Ground Zero – responsible for countless ailments – causes cancer.

“The biggest uncertainty is whether there are other World Trade Center conditions that we haven’t recognized yet,” said Dr. Jim Melius, head of the advisory board of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program. “The most likely one is going to be cancer.”

Melius said construction workers, police officers and firefighters see people they worked with at Ground Zero developing cancer and fear they will, too. “People are just not sure – is this going to happen to me?” he said.

Although the scientific evidence is not conclusive, the anecdotal evidence is chilling.

Hundreds of deaths among 9/11 rescue and recovery workers – from lymphoma, multiple myeloma, leukemia, cancers of the esophagus, stomach, lung, larynx, liver, colon, pancreas and brain – have been reported.

Doctors at Mount Sinai Medical Center published a study in the August 2009 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine that found an “unusual number” of multiple myeloma, or bone marrow cancer, cases in WTC responders under age 45.

The numbers – four cases out of 28,000 responders – were too small to prove an increased cancer rate, though doctors would expect to see just one case in a population that size.

Still, the study noted the “latency period … in these cases is significantly shorter” than the usual 10 to 20 years.

More research, including a cancer study of city firefighters, is due out in September, when the British medical journal Lancet will devote an entire issue to Trade Center health issues.

And Dr. John Howard, head of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the fed’s World Trade Center Program Coordinator, is weighing whether to add cancer to the list of health conditions covered under the program.

Still, even without counting cancer cases, the rolls of the WTC sick continue to swell. Every month, new patients sign up for monitoring and treatment.

“New patients are still coming in, people who say they went to the doctor and have been ignoring symptoms for a long time,” said Dr. Laura Crowley, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Medical School.

“It’s important to figure out if it’s related to World Trade Center exposure and will develop into something in the future.”

Statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 60,270 responders and community members were enrolled in World Trade Center health programs in March, up 1,655 from December.

These include more than 15,700 from the Fire Department, nearly 35,000 other responders in New York and New Jersey, 4,500 rescue and recovery workers across the country and more than 5,300 downtown residents, office workers and students.

More than 18,400 of them needed treatment in the previous year for a Trade Center-related illness – 937 more than needed help in the calendar year that ended three months earlier in December.

That’s because many of the tens of thousands who breathed in the toxic dust are still – 10 years later – not getting any better.

“There are an awful lot of people who continue to be ill from the World Trade Center,” Melius said. “So there are people who continue to require a lot of medical treatment for what have become chronic medical conditions.”

Crowley said those include persistent cough, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, headaches, nosebleeds, acid reflux, gastrointestinal illnesses, sarcoidosis, interstitial lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sinusitis, sleep apnea and a loss of lung function or sense of smell.

Some get better with medication, many don’t.

Even among city firefighters – who have access to top medical care and whose health is carefully tracked – the illnesses just won’t go away.

Dr. David Prezant, the FDNY’s chief medical officer, said up to half the 15,700 active and retired FDNY and Emergency Medical Service personnel enrolled in the program still had symptoms of respiratory disease last year.

About 70% suffered from depression and/or posttraumatic stress syndrome, he said.

FDNY doctors have seen seven cases of pulmonary fibrosis, 300% to 400% the expected rate. Two of those responders have required lung transplants; the others still may. Before 9/11, Prezant said, there were no cases in the department.

He said there are also 40 cases of sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease caused by inhaling Trade Center dust.

That’s the illness that claimed the life of Jerry Borg, a downtown office worker whose death brought the official victim total last month to 2,753.

“That’s what the legacy of this is – people who are sick and continue to need treatment for conditions that are disabling and continue to interfere with their daily living,” Melius said. “The large numbers of people who are so sick, that’s what’s most worrisome about this.”

{NY Daily News/Matzav.com Newscenter}