More than 45 cancers, including breast and those affecting the respiratory system, should be covered by the Zadroga 9/11 health law, an advisory committee recommended yesterday.
The World Trade Center Health Program Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee also said that rare and childhood cancers should be covered but did not choose to include pancreatic, prostate or brain cancers.
"This is a big win for the survivor community, which includes residents, workers and students," said committee member Catherine McVay Hughes.
"Cancer needed to be added a long time ago," said John Feal, 9/11 advocate and founder of the FealGood Foundation. "Overall it was a victory, but at what cost? I don't agree with the process -- it's taken too long."
The people whose cancers would be eligible to be covered are first responders and other workers who were at the World Trade Center during rescue, recovery and debris removal activities following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as downtown workers, residents and children.
Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2010 to reopen the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and provide additional help to people affected by the disaster and its aftermath.
The law allocated $2.8 billion for compensation and $1.5 billion for medical monitoring and care.
While it covered such illnesses as asthma, acid reflux and certain chronic sinus problems when passed, cancer was not a condition that would be covered, mostly because scientists have yet to see strong evidence that people exposed to the dust are getting the disease at higher rates than the public.
The scientific debate is still in its early stages, but committee members said they thought evidence of a cancer link would eventually be found, given the sorts of toxins that were present at Ground Zero, and that it was reasonable to expand the program now as the research continues.
Also, while the committee voted against the addition of pancreatic, brain and prostate cancers, committee chairwoman Elizabeth Ward said it could be asked to advise about these diseases at a later date.
Some advocates were disappointed with the exclusion of brain cancer.
"He died and it came from leftfield," said Jacques Capsouto, of TriBeCa, whose brother Albert was diagnosed in November 2009 with a malignant brain tumor, and died nine weeks later. "Glioblastoma is very aggressive."
"9/11 was dirty, these cancers are dirty," said Feal. "I'll fight for brain cancer."
In addition to breast cancer and cancers of the respiratory system, the committee recommended that certain cancers of the digestive system, including esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum, liver and intrahepatic bile duct, retroperitoneum, peritoneum, omentum and mesentery be listed.
The committee has until April 2 to submit its official recommendation to program administrator Dr. John Howard of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Howard will then have 60 days to make a final decision on what cancers will be covered.