The risk of cancer is 15% higher in 9/11 responders compared to the general population not exposed to Ground Zero, according to a new study.

The research was conducted by Mount Sinai Hospital’s World Trade Center Health Program and was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Almost 21,000 rescue and recovery workers who worked at Ground Zero were analyzed in the report. The experts explained that they found more cases of blood, lymph, prostate, thyroid, and soft tissue cancers than they anticipated.

Data from 2001 to 2008 were gathered and analyzed for the purpose of the investigation. Scientists found 575 cancer cases among the responders of 9/11. Epidemiologists anticipated finding 499 cases for that same size in the general population.

The responders involved in the research lived in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The workers were 85% male and their average age was 38 on the day of the attack.

They worked at Ground Zero for a median of fifty-seven days and 43% were exposed to dust clouds sent up when the Twin Towers collapsed.

According to the authors, the incidence of certain cancers was higher than expected in the general population.
The incidence of:
  • thyroid cancer was 239% greater
  • soft tissue cancers was 226% greater
  • blood and lymph cancers 36% greater
  • prostate cancer 21% greater

The results are similar to a report by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s WTC Health Registry on NYC residents, as well as a different study by the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) which found that firefighters had at least a 19% higher risk cancer compared to colleagues who were not exposed to the toxic cloud produced by the collapse of the twin towers..

Study co-author Philip Landrigan, MD, MSc, FAAP, Dean for Global Health and the Ethel Wise Professor and Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said:

“Previous studies have looked at cancer incidence rates after September 11, but did not report on associations according to levels of exposure. This study is significant because for the first time it examines associations between several types of cancers in a specific population – WTC rescue and recovery workers – and levels of exposure to the dust on the debris pile in lower Manhattan.”

“Just seven years after the attack, our study has shown an increase in cancer even at this early stage,” Dr. Jacqueline Moline, a researcher of the Mount Sinai report said to Opposing Views.

The author explained that cancer associated with carcinogens at Ground Zero could take several years to develop.

Moline said:

“The fact that we are seeing early increases in many types of cancers makes it all the more critical for us to be vigilant in our medical surveillance of anyone who had WTC exposure and to provide treatment for them if necessary.”

Although the results of this report are significant, they should be interpreted with caution, warned Samara Solan, MD, an Instructor of Preventive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and corresponding author.

She pointed out that people should make note of:

  • the short follow-up and long latency period for most cancers
  • the intensive medical surveillance of this cohort by the research team
  • and the small numbers of cancers at certain sites

However, our findings strongly highlight the need for continued follow-up and medical surveillance of WTC responders,” Solan concluded.

Last year, the National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH) announced that 50 types of cancers were added to the list of diseases that have affected 9/11 victims and would be federally funded, meaning that another 70,000 emergency service workers as well as other 9/11 survivors would be entitled to free medical care.

Written by Sarah Glynn