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9/11 Cancer: How is 9/11 and Cancer Connected?

By on November 22, 2019

Table of Contents

Did 9/11 cause cancer? How is 9/11 and cancer connected?

9/11 terror attacks shaped the course of history in many ways, including starting a global war on terror. In the US, the attacks brought serious concerns over the short-term and long-term health effects of exposure to “WTC toxins”. 

There were concerns about exposure to pulverized building materials, furniture, and electronic equipment that 9/11 first responders, volunteers, and individuals living and working in neighboring environs had to breathe in for months during the WTC site rescue, recovery, and cleanup process. 

Months after the attacks, smoke from ongoing fires continued to pollute the air around the site and New York at large. Also, there was a rise in the number of NYC workers and residents with respiratory illnesses.

Although a week after 9/11, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) administrator, Christie Whiteman went on record claiming that the air in New York was safe to breathe, people began falling ill.  

9/11 is still claiming cancer victims to date, with approximately 10,000 people having been diagnosed with cancers linked to 9/11. However, it wasn’t until James Zadroga’s case that a clear link was established between 9/11 and cancer. 

James Zadroga 9 11 cancer case

The James Zadroga case was the first official 9 11 first responders cancer case. Zadroga was an NYPD detective who took part in the 9/11 recovery efforts. After working on the WTC site for over 450 hours, he developed a cough. His condition worsened the following years leading to permanent disability retirement in 2004. Zadroga died on 5th January 2006. 

Although the cause of his death was originally disputed, an autopsy performed by pathologist Gerard Breton showed Zadroga had died because of exposure to toxins present at Ground Zero. The revelation inspired a renewed search for justice, including a new law dubbed the Zadroga Act of 2010. 

The law has been reauthorized to accommodate new cancers and illnesses linked to the WTC attacks as they arise. The law has also extended funding for 9 11 cancer victims and individuals suffering from other 9/11 related illnesses through the WTC health program, which offers testing as well as treatment to 9/11 survivors and responders. 

9 11 Cancer toxins

The genesis of 9 11 cancers can be traced to toxins found at the WTC, the most notable being toxic dust.

Toxic dust

According to expert reports, the collapsed WTC towers produced a “wildly toxic” dust. One such report was given by air pollution expert, Thomas Cahill, who went as far as claiming the EPA knew about toxic dust being a possible 9 11 cancer cause.

Majority of the toxic dust was made up of pulverized concrete, which has been proven to cause silicosis when inhaled. The dust also contained over 2,500 contaminants in the following proportions:

  • 50% construction debris and non-fibrous material (capable of irritating the lungs when inhaled) 
  • 40% glass among other fibers
  • 9.2% cellulose (believed to originate from disintegrated paper and/similar office materials)
  • 0.8% asbestos (an extremely toxic carcinogen)

The toxic dust also had detectable traces of mercury and lead. This is according to the results of a sample collected from the WTC site on 16th September 2001.  Other harmful compounds and elements found include titanium, dioxin, barium, and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). 

Most of the substances in the toxic 9 11 dust (asbestos, lead, cadmium, crystalline silica, PAHs, etc.,) are carcinogenic. Those that weren’t have known negative effects on organs like the liver, heart, nervous system, and kidneys, facts that were known to the EPA at the time. 

Other reports have confirmed the toxic nature of the dust. One such report by the NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health) found carbon nanotubes in the dust samples and lungs of several 9 11 responders. 

The toxic dust exposures have been linked to many debilitating illnesses suffered by rescue, recovery as well as cleanup workers. According to a 2006 report by the Sierra Club, there was a sharp increase in respiratory illnesses by 9 11 first responders and survivors following the attacks. Health effects extended to some office workers, students, and residents of lower Manhattan and nearby environs like Chinatown.  

Many experts were on record warning against toxic dust and materials after 9 11. One such expert, Kelly McKinney, an assistant City Health Commissioner at the time, is on record stating that WTC site workers weren’t observing proper safety protocols. 

9 11 Cancer link: Cancer risk

The link between toxic 9 11 dust and cancer is clear. A study published by Dr. David Prezant, Chief Medical Officer of the New York City Fire Department in 2010, revealed that all the 5,000 workers studied showed signs of impaired lung function. According to the study, the impairments didn’t improve within the first year, which is usually the case with exposure to typical fire and smoke. 

In fact, 30-40% of the workers reported persistent symptoms in the years following the 9 11 attacks.  By 2010, 20% of the workers in the study were placed on permanent respiratory disability. According to Dr. Prezant, medication given wasn’t a cure. Most of these cases are believed to have generated into cancer as victims (firefighters) who are exposed to typical fires and smoke recover.

Another study published in 2012 involving over 55,000 individuals in the WTC health registry reveals a link between WTC debris and increased cancer risk. The subjects in the study who were observed from 2003/4 to 2008 revealed increased incidences of thyroid cancer, prostate cancer, and multiple myeloma among rescue and recovery workers in 2008 (the last year of observation). There have also been confirmed cases of men being diagnosed with breast cancer 17 years after the 9/11 attacks. 

There is undeniable proof linking 9 11 toxins to almost 70 types of cancers.

9 11 responder and survivor statistics

Having established a clear link between 911 toxic dust and cancer, it’s important to look at the statistics:

a. Number of WTC program members

The WTC Health program began on 1st July 2011 to help 9 11 victims, volunteers, first responders, among other individuals, receive high-quality healthcare. According to the latest data (as of September 2019), there are approximately 100,000 responders, and survivors enrolled in the WTC Health Program. There are more responders than survivors enrolled (77% vs. 23%, respectively).

This makes the program one of the most (if not the most accurate) source of 9 11 first responder and survivor statistics.

b. New enrollment statistics

Every month, in the past year (September 2018 – September 2019), approximately 760 new responders and survivors have been enrolling in the WTC Health Program.

c. Member type statistics

In regards to member type, general responders are the highest at 59%, followed by survivors at 23% and FDNY responders at 17%. Pentagon and Shanksville responders are the least at 1%.

d. Fatalities

2,593 members of the 99,769 are deceased. 

e. Age distribution

Responders aged between 35 and 74 years are the most affected by the 9/11 attacks. The same applies to survivors. This age group represents 92% of all the 9 11 first responders and survivors enrolled in the WTC health program.

f. Gender distribution

There are more men than women first responders (67% vs. 9%) in the WTC health program. Survivors are equally distributed at 12% men vs. 11% women. In total, the 9/11 attacks affected 79% men and 21% women responders and survivors. 

g. State distribution

The 9 11 attacks affected individuals from all over the US. According to the WTC program statistics, most members 85% are from within the NYC metropolitan area. 

h. Members with cancer (9 11 cancer statistics)

Of all first responders and survivors in the WTC health program suffering from illnesses certified by the Zadroga Act, 14,755 or 20% have cancer. However, it’s worth noting that members may be certified in two or more cancers. 

i. 9 11 cancer deaths

788 WTC health program members have died because of cancer (682 responders vs. 106 survivors). 

j. Certified conditions

Cancer is ranked 4th in the list of certified conditions. The most common certified conditions affecting both responders and survivors (from most to least common) are:

  1. Chronic Rhinosinusitis
  2. GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  3. Asthma
  4. Various types of cancer
  5. Sleep apnea
  6. PTSD (Posttraumatic stress disorder)
  7. Respiratory disease
  8. COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  9. Anxiety
  10. Depression

K. 9 11 cancer statistics (most common 9 11 cancer types)

Top certified cancers (9 11 cancers covered) affecting responders and survivors according to the latest WTC Health Program statistics (listed from most to least common) are;

911 cancer list
  1. Non-melanoma skin cancer
  2. Prostate cancer
  3. Breast cancer (female)
  4. Melanoma skin cancer
  5. Lymphoma
  6. Thyroid cancer
  7. Lung cancer
  8. Kidney cancer
  9. Leukemia
  10. Skin cancer (carcinoma in situ)
  11. Colon cancer
  12. Bladder cancer
  13. Myeloma
  14. Oropharynx
  15. Rectal cancer
  16. Tonsil cancer
Cancer rates in 9 11 first responders and survivors
Type of certified cancerNumber of 9/11 first respondersaffectedNumber of 9/11 survivors affected
9 11 non-melanoma cancer cases3,731498
911 prostate cancer cases2,356870
9 11 breast cancer cases – female 268765
9 11 Melanoma of Skin cases822164
9 11 Lymphoma cases508358
9 11 Thyroid cancer cases451372
9 11 lung cancer cases391323
9 11 kidney cancer cases425213
9 11 Leukemia cancer cases362218
9 11 skin cancer cases48488
9 11 colon cancer cases340162
9 11 bladder cancer cases312112
9 11 myeloma cancer cases156148
9 11 Oropharynx cancer cases16495
9 11 rectal cancer cases12688
9 11 tonsil cancer cases46162

l. Member certification

53, 970 individuals have one or more certified illnesses. 

m. Cancer certification

14,755 individuals have one or more cancer certifications. However, the statistics don’t capture deceased members who had cancer certifications. 

9 11 firefighter cancer statistics 

According to a 9 11 FDNY factsheet, over 2,000 New York City Fire Department personnel have had health problems related to 9/11. 110+ firefighters died because of 9/11 injuries. On 11th September 2001, the FDNY lost 343 firefighters. Many more are struggling with illnesses stemming from toxic dust and fumes at the 9/11 sites.

Number of cancers among 911 firefighters: Most FDNY members with 9 11 Related cancer suffer from two or more cancers. 

Retired FDNY and other first responders because of disability: According to the FDNY’s Chief Medical Officer, David Prezant, over 2,100 firemen and EMS personnel are retired on disability based on WTC–related illnesses, mostly lung cancer. 

Most prevalent cancers among 911 firefighters: Research reveals colon, thyroid, blood, and prostate cancers as the most prevalent cancers among FDNY firefighters who were at Ground Zero compared to those who didn’t serve at the WTC site. The FDNY has found, in the past, a correlation between WTC exposure and greater risk for 9/11 related cancers among firefighters.

Diagnosis and treatment statistics for other illnesses: Over 7,000 FDNY firefighters and emergency medical technicians have been treated for 9 11 linked injuries or illnesses in the past. Over 5,400 FDNY members have been diagnosed with asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, sarcoidosis, COPD, or pulmonary fibrosis.

5,200+ FDNY members have contracted upper respiratory diseases like vocal cord diseases or chronic rhinosinusitis. 3,700+ FDNY firefighters have been found to have mental health-related conditions, and another 5,400+ have been found to have gastroesophageal reflux disorders since 9/11.

9 11 firefighters deaths due to toxic dust: 1,100 FDNY firefighters have developed cancer linked to 9/11 toxins, 44 of whom have died despite getting access to treatment. 

Prostate and thyroid cancer risks: The WTC health program revealed a higher risk among 21,000 first responders in their program compared to typical rates in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, where most workers lived.  

Important: Cancer takes years, sometimes decades, to develop. Numerous cancer studies published suggest the importance of long-term cancer monitoring among individuals who were exposed to 9/11 toxins. Many experts have been on record attesting to the fact that no one really knows the precise composition of the 9/11 dust cloud, alluding to the fact that we may see more cancers in the future.  

What’s more, it can take 20 years for a person exposed to asbestos – a known carcinogen, to start showing serious symptoms. Asbestos was used to construct the WTC towers. The FDNY estimates 9,000+ that firefighters who may not have been diagnosed are still at risk of getting cancer. The WTC health registry has already found an increase in thyroid and prostate cancer diagnoses as well as some blood cancers among first responders (rescue personnel and cleanup workers). 

What’s next for individuals with 911 linked cancer or a related condition?

Funding for 9 11 cancer victims: 911 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF)

The VCF began operating in 2001 to compensate victims and families of individuals who suffered physical injuries or were killed following the 11th September 2001 terrorist attacks or recovery efforts in the aftermath of the attacks. The original VCF was in effect between 2001 and 2004.

In 2011, President Obama signed the Zadroga Act reactivating the Victim Compensation Fund for another five years. On 18th December 2015, President Obama reauthorized the Zadroga Act reauthorizing the VCF for another five years in the process. 

In the aftermath of the Zadroga case and bill that created a link between 911 and cancer, the VCF began acting as a fund for 911 cancer victims and victims with other certified illnesses. Reauthorization came with new policies and procedures for assessing claims and individual losses. 

As a source of funding for 9 11 cancer victims, the new act capped non-economic loss resulting from cancer at $250,000. Directives were also given to the fund’s Special Master to prioritize claimants in order of severity. This meant funding for 9 11 cancer victims unable to work prioritized over other less severe claims. However, the fund removed the minimum award giving the Special Master discretion.   

VCF Permanent Authorization 

After the Special Master determined and announced on 15th February 2019 that funding for 9 11 victims was insufficient to pay claims (pending and projected) and announced modifications, lawmakers moved to authorize 9 11 claims funding permanently.

On 29th July 2019, President Trump signed the VCF Permanent Authorization law extending the 9 11 claims filing deadline to 1st October 2090. Funding for successful claims will now be available permanently. Any 9 11 cancer claims involving certified cancer as per the WTC health program list of certified conditions is now guaranteed compensation.  

9/11 Cancer FAQs

1. How many 9 11 first responders have cancer?

According to September 2019 WTC program statistics, 9,967 living members (responders/rescue workers) have gotten cancer since 9 11. 

2. How many people have died from cancer from 9 11?

According to September 2019 WTC program statistics, there are 788 deceased members with cancer certifications as per the Zadroga Act.

3. How many 9 11 first responders died from cancer?

Of the total 788 deceased members of the WTC health program, 682 are 911 first responders. 

4. How many 9 11 survivors have cancer?

The latest statistics (September 2019) show 4,788 September 11th survivors are living with cancer.

5. How many 9 11 survivors died of cancer?

106 members of the WTC program with certified cancers are listed as deceased. 

6. How many people have cancer from 9 11?

14,755 

7. How did 9 11 cause cancer?

The burning dust and debris from the twin towers were confirmed to contain carcinogens that were inhaled or ingested by 9 11 first respondents, survivors, and individuals living or working within the WTC site after the attacks.  

8. How do I join the WTC health program if I have cancer?

To join and receive treatment for cancer or any other 9/11 linked illnesses, you must apply. After application, you must be assessed for eligibility. Once your eligibility is confirmed, you can proceed and choose a clinic of your choice to go for your first appointment. 

A WTC health program-approved physician will evaluate you at your first and subsequent appointments to ascertain if you have a 911 related cancer. The physician will make a decision after conducting a clinical evaluation of the exposure situation as well as the cancer you have. Your cancer must be in the list of certified cancers for you to be able to receive free medical services. The same applies to other illnesses. They must be in the WTC list of 911 linked illnesses for you to be treated for free. 

9. I had cancer before 9 11. If I get diagnosed again after 9 11, will I be eligible for compensation and coverage through the World Trade Center health program?

9 11 victims diagnosed with a new cancer can still get compensated and coverage under the WTC program. However, the cancer must fall within the outlined latency periods. The WTC program can verify new cancer cases, making you eligible for compensation. If you aren’t sure if your new cancer falls within the stipulated latency period for 9 11 related cancers, write to the WTC health program. 

10. I have multiple 9/11 linked cancers. Will I get a higher compensation?

The VCF calculates compensation for 9/11 victims with various illnesses, including cancer-based on factors like severity, type of cancer as well as the impact that cancer has on your daily life. However, the VCF has a cap. Victims with cancerous conditions can’t get compensated more than $250,000.

11. If I die of a 9/11 cancer when my claim is still under review, what will happen to my award?

Personal representatives of victims of 911 cancer claims can call the VCF and proceed with a claim. Claimants who pass away pursuing a claim have the right to a wrongful death award. 

12. I have cancer linked to 911, but the VCF has denied me compensation. What can I do?

The VCF allows 911 victims to appeal. However, if an amendment is denied i.e., for additional compensation on your condition, there’s no appeal process. However, you have a right to amend a VCF claim based on any new ailments in the future or a disability determination.

13. I want to move to another city. Will I be able to receive WTC program treatment and monitoring for my cancer while I am not in New York?

Yes. The WTC program has a nationwide network of clinics where 911 first responders and survivors can get treatment and monitoring. 

14. Can I still get treatment from my private doctor while enrolled in a WTC health program?

Yes. Being a WTC health program member doesn’t stop you from seeing your doctor even if you have a certified cancer. However, you will be required to pay your own doctor if you forgo free medical care offered by the WTC program. 

15. I have cancer that isn’t covered. Should I enroll in the WTC health program?

The WTC program monitors 9 11 victims who don’t have certified conditions. However, you must have been exposed to the 9 11 toxin dust during or after the attacks. This applies to first responders, survivors, and individuals living, working, or studying near 911 sites. The WTC encourages anyone who thinks they were exposed in any way to apply and get free checkups for 911 linked cancers and other illnesses. What’s more, new conditions have been added in the past. Cancer that wasn’t previously certified may be included in the WTC health program list of 911 cancers. It is, therefore, recommendable to enroll if you suspect you have any illness linked to 911.

16. Do I need an attorney or lawyer for my VCF cancer claim? Can I pursue my claim on my own?

Yes. You can pursue a VCF cancer claim alone. However, by retaining a lawyer, you get access to legal expertise on all matters regarding 9/11 victims. You can benefit from the experience of a 9/11 attorney who has helped thousands of victims claim 911 compensation successfully. What’s more, seasoned attorneys handling 9/11 claims don’t get paid unless you get an award. The amount is also capped, meaning attorney fees aren’t an issue when it comes to pursuing 9/11 claims.

17. How do I include an attorney in my 9 11 cancer claim?

You can add, remove, or change an attorney by following the instructions in the “Change of Attorney” form. Complete, sign, and upload the signed form. If you add or change an attorney, you and your new attorney will be required to submit some documents alongside the Change of Attorney form.

The VCF will make appropriate updates to the claim once they receive the completed form and all the required documentation. The updates include information such as who will receive correspondence and access to the claim online. When adding an attorney initially, you must complete info. required under Option 1 on the form and upload.

If you remove or change the lawyer on your VCF claim, you need to submit a claim or new registration to be able to effect the change. This applies even when your claim has been paid or decided, and you want to amend and add a new ailment or seek additional compensation.

When removing or changing an attorney after previously submitting documents requiring the VCF to pay you via a former attorney, the instruction may remain the same. This applies if your claim is in a review status online. 

Important: Regardless of how the VCF sends you payment, you are still liable for agreements related to lawyer fees as per the lawyer-claimant contract. 

9 11 cancer cases 

9/11 terror attacks claimed many victims. Many more continue to suffer from the aftermath. Apart from Zadroga, who died in 2006, many first responders have died of 9 11 related cancers.  Here are some recent cases: 

1. Luis Alvarez 9 11 cancer case

One of the latest high profile cases involves Luiz Alvarez, a retired police NYPD detective who appeared before Congress to plead for the continuation of health benefits for 9 11 first responders just before going for his 69th chemotherapy treatment. Luiz Alvarez died in June 2019. 

On September 11th 2001, Luiz Alvarez raced to Ground zero and spent weeks at the site searching for survivors and remains. 15 years after the attacks, he was diagnosed with a rare cancer – colorectal cancer. The cancer had spread to the liver prompting Alvarez to begin chemotherapy treatment immediately.

In his testimony before Congress, Alvarez stated he began treatment with chemo sessions every two weeks, a brutal treatment regimen that “bought him time” which most responders weren’t able to enjoy.  Alvarez testified to ensure the 9/11 VCF didn’t run out of funds. 

His 69th chemotherapy session that was scheduled the following day after his testimony never took place. Just before receiving treatment, the nurse who was supposed to treat him noticed he was disoriented. After conducting tests, it was revealed that Alvarez’s liver wasn’t working because of tumors, and doctors couldn’t do anything to save him.

Alvarez began hospice care. In his last days, Alvarez continued urging lawmakers to extend the 9 11 victim’s fund. He died on 29th June 2019.

2. Agent Melissa Morrow 9 11 brain cancer

FBI agent Melissa Morrow spent 10 weeks sifting through toxic 9 11 dust and debris at the Pentagon. 15 years later, agent Morrow was diagnosed with cancer. Morrow died of brain cancer in March 2018 in what federal officials linked to exposure to toxins from the 9 11 crash site at the Pentagon. Agent Morrow was also exposed to toxins where Pentagon plane crash evidence was stored. 

Agent Morrow joined the FBI in 1995 after finishing law school. In 2010, she was transferred to Kansas City. She was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2016 after suffering from sudden and severe headaches accompanied by fatigue and insomnia.  

Morrow spent 2.5 months sorting and processing evidence from the Pentagon 9 11 crash site. She is among the 1% of WTC Health Program members who were first responders in Shanksville, Pa or the Pentagon.

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