Dr. Jacqueline Moline, of Northwell Health, said “cancer takes a...

Dr. Jacqueline Moline, of Northwell Health, said “cancer takes a long time to develop. So, seeing them 20 years later for solid tumors is basically what we would expect. We didn’t see a lot of tumors for the first 10 years.” Credit: Howard Schnapp

Twenty-one years after 9/11, the number of new Long Island cancer cases linked each year to the terrorist attacks is increasing, a sign of how the health effects of exposure to toxic materials at and near Ground Zero can take years to emerge, experts say.

The number of cancer cases certified by the federal government’s World Trade Center Health Program as “substantially likely” related to 9/11 exposure has doubled nationwide in the past three years, from 14,030 through June 30, 2019, to 28,434, through June 30, 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program provides free care and screenings to those exposed to toxins on and after 9/11.

“Cancer takes a long time to develop,” said Dr. Jacqueline Moline, who directs the program’s center for responders in Queens, which is run by Northwell Health and serves many Long Islanders. “So, seeing them 20 years later for solid tumors is basically what we would expect. We didn’t see a lot of tumors for the first 10 years.”

A total of 2,753 people died after two planes flown by militants with the Islamist terrorist group al-Qaida hit the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Another 224 people died when another plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and when a fourth crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers stopped hijackers from what appeared to be a planned attack on the Capitol in Washington, D.C. 

Retired NYPD Sgt. Robert Garrity, 53, of Long Beach, spent three weeks in rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts at Ground Zero. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in July. Garrity urges 9/11 responders and survivors to be vigilant. 

“Don’t think, ‘Just because it’s been 21 years, I’m fine,’ ” he said.

In the year ending June 30, the number of newly certified cancer cases increased nearly 20%, compared with between 3.7% and 7.6% for each of the other nine most common 9/11-related conditions, CDC data shows. Those numbers include cases that, although newly certified by the government as 9/11-related, were diagnosed earlier.

For some common 9/11-related conditions, including asthma and chronic laryngitis, symptoms first must appear within one to five years after exposure for survivors to qualify for World Trade Center Health Program certification. For cancer, it’s the opposite — first symptoms for many types of cancer cannot appear until four to 11 years later, illustrating the long latency period of some cancers.

Dr. Benjamin Luft, who directs World Trade Center program centers in Commack and Mineola run by Stony Brook Medicine, expects many years of new cancer cases linked to Ground Zero. But, he said, “9/11 was a unique event. We don’t know what will be occurring as a result of 9/11. All we know is there was an extraordinary amount of exposure, and these people are at very significant risk.”

The toxic stew unleashed by the terrorist attacks included a long list of cancer-causing chemicals, as jet fuel from the airplanes burned plastic, computer parts, asbestos and other materials, and noxious dust from the collapsed buildings filled the air, Luft said.

The toxins that people were exposed to can spread throughout the body — putting at risk multiple body parts — damage the DNA and alter the way cells function, Luft said.

“It takes a long time for those cells to replicate and proliferate and to give rise to cancer,” he said.

The number of newly diagnosed cancer cases at the program’s centers on Long Island and in Queens have increased each of the past few years, Luft and Moline said. Although a key reason is the long latency period of some cancers, another may be because those exposed to 9/11 are getting older, and the risk of cancer increases with age, they said.

The most common type of program-certified cancer is non-melanoma skin cancer. That’s because of the skin’s exposure to the toxins, Moline said.

Prostate cancer is the second most common. “There are certain organs [such as the prostate] that have more of a propensity” to develop cancerous tumors, Luft said.

Garrity has had numerous health issues in the years following 9/11, including asthma, chronic respiratory disorder, gastroesophageal reflux disease and rhinosinusitis, for which he had two sinus operations. In 2014 and 2018, he was diagnosed with two types of skin cancer. The cancers were successfully removed.

“It’s been a real rough ride,” he said.

With so many other health problems, his prostate cancer diagnosis was not entirely a surprise, he said.

“I kind of figured it wasn’t over for me,” he said.

Garrity has appointments with several more physicians in the next few days to see what the best option is for him, but, he said, removal of the entire prostate is most likely.

“It was caught early on, but it’s very aggressive,” he said. “It’s growing at an alarming rate.”

Anthony Hans, 73, of East Meadow, was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, nine years after a kidney cancer diagnosis. A kidney was removed, and the prostate cancer is in remission, after radiation and hormone treatment.

Hans, who worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers near Ground Zero for nearly a month after 9/11 and recalled being “covered with the dust,” didn’t have any health issues for years.

“I never thought I’d get sick from that,” he said.

It’s often difficult to predict if someone will develop cancer. But multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, often is preceded by a stage called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance. A study published last month that Luft co-authored involving responders treated by Stony Brook found that the responders were more than twice as likely to have MGUS than people in general. 

Those with MGUS don’t always develop myeloma, but “we expect that a very good percentage will go on to develop multiple myeloma,” Luft said. Screening and monitoring by the program’s doctors can catch cancers early, to improve prognoses, he said.

Michael Barasch, whose Manhattan law firm assists people in getting 9/11-related compensation, said many of those now calling are office workers who weren’t aware of their risk or of their eligibility for the program.

“Not a day goes without two of my clients dying of a 9/11 cancer,” he said. "And not a day goes by without at least a dozen new people calling me about their 9/11 cancers."

Twenty-one years after 9/11, the number of new Long Island cancer cases linked each year to the terrorist attacks is increasing, a sign of how the health effects of exposure to toxic materials at and near Ground Zero can take years to emerge, experts say.

The number of cancer cases certified by the federal government’s World Trade Center Health Program as “substantially likely” related to 9/11 exposure has doubled nationwide in the past three years, from 14,030 through June 30, 2019, to 28,434, through June 30, 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program provides free care and screenings to those exposed to toxins on and after 9/11.

“Cancer takes a long time to develop,” said Dr. Jacqueline Moline, who directs the program’s center for responders in Queens, which is run by Northwell Health and serves many Long Islanders. “So, seeing them 20 years later for solid tumors is basically what we would expect. We didn’t see a lot of tumors for the first 10 years.”

A total of 2,753 people died after two planes flown by militants with the Islamist terrorist group al-Qaida hit the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Another 224 people died when another plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and when a fourth crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers stopped hijackers from what appeared to be a planned attack on the Capitol in Washington, D.C. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The number of new Long Island cancer cases each year that are linked to 9/11 is increasing. Exposure to toxic materials can lead to health problems that emerge years or even decades later.
  • Nationwide, the number of cancer cases certified by the federal government’s World Trade Center Health Program has doubled in the past three years, to 28,434.
  • Doctors expect more cancer cases in the years to come, because many cancers have especially long latency periods.

Retired NYPD Sgt. Robert Garrity, 53, of Long Beach, spent three weeks in rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts at Ground Zero. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in July. Garrity urges 9/11 responders and survivors to be vigilant. 

“Don’t think, ‘Just because it’s been 21 years, I’m fine,’ ” he said.

In the year ending June 30, the number of newly certified cancer cases increased nearly 20%, compared with between 3.7% and 7.6% for each of the other nine most common 9/11-related conditions, CDC data shows. Those numbers include cases that, although newly certified by the government as 9/11-related, were diagnosed earlier.

For some common 9/11-related conditions, including asthma and chronic laryngitis, symptoms first must appear within one to five years after exposure for survivors to qualify for World Trade Center Health Program certification. For cancer, it’s the opposite — first symptoms for many types of cancer cannot appear until four to 11 years later, illustrating the long latency period of some cancers.

'Extraordinary amount of exposure'

Dr. Benjamin Luft, who directs World Trade Center program centers in Commack and Mineola run by Stony Brook Medicine, expects many years of new cancer cases linked to Ground Zero. But, he said, “9/11 was a unique event. We don’t know what will be occurring as a result of 9/11. All we know is there was an extraordinary amount of exposure, and these people are at very significant risk.”

The toxic stew unleashed by the terrorist attacks included a long list of cancer-causing chemicals, as jet fuel from the airplanes burned plastic, computer parts, asbestos and other materials, and noxious dust from the collapsed buildings filled the air, Luft said.

The toxins that people were exposed to can spread throughout the body — putting at risk multiple body parts — damage the DNA and alter the way cells function, Luft said.

“It takes a long time for those cells to replicate and proliferate and to give rise to cancer,” he said.

The number of newly diagnosed cancer cases at the program’s centers on Long Island and in Queens have increased each of the past few years, Luft and Moline said. Although a key reason is the long latency period of some cancers, another may be because those exposed to 9/11 are getting older, and the risk of cancer increases with age, they said.

The most common type of program-certified cancer is non-melanoma skin cancer. That’s because of the skin’s exposure to the toxins, Moline said.

Prostate cancer is the second most common. “There are certain organs [such as the prostate] that have more of a propensity” to develop cancerous tumors, Luft said.

7,821 People with most common 9/11-related cancer, non-melanoma skin cancer 6,366 People with second most common cancer, prostate cancer Source: CDC, Includes only officially certified cases.

Garrity has had numerous health issues in the years following 9/11, including asthma, chronic respiratory disorder, gastroesophageal reflux disease and rhinosinusitis, for which he had two sinus operations. In 2014 and 2018, he was diagnosed with two types of skin cancer. The cancers were successfully removed.

“It’s been a real rough ride,” he said.

With so many other health problems, his prostate cancer diagnosis was not entirely a surprise, he said.

“I kind of figured it wasn’t over for me,” he said.

Retired NYPD Sgt. Robert Garrity.

Retired NYPD Sgt. Robert Garrity. Credit: Howard Simmons

Garrity has appointments with several more physicians in the next few days to see what the best option is for him, but, he said, removal of the entire prostate is most likely.

“It was caught early on, but it’s very aggressive,” he said. “It’s growing at an alarming rate.”

Anthony Hans, 73, of East Meadow, was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, nine years after a kidney cancer diagnosis. A kidney was removed, and the prostate cancer is in remission, after radiation and hormone treatment.

'Covered with the dust'

Hans, who worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers near Ground Zero for nearly a month after 9/11 and recalled being “covered with the dust,” didn’t have any health issues for years.

“I never thought I’d get sick from that,” he said.

It’s often difficult to predict if someone will develop cancer. But multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, often is preceded by a stage called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance. A study published last month that Luft co-authored involving responders treated by Stony Brook found that the responders were more than twice as likely to have MGUS than people in general. 

Those with MGUS don’t always develop myeloma, but “we expect that a very good percentage will go on to develop multiple myeloma,” Luft said. Screening and monitoring by the program’s doctors can catch cancers early, to improve prognoses, he said.

Michael Barasch, whose Manhattan law firm assists people in getting 9/11-related compensation, said many of those now calling are office workers who weren’t aware of their risk or of their eligibility for the program.

“Not a day goes without two of my clients dying of a 9/11 cancer,” he said. "And not a day goes by without at least a dozen new people calling me about their 9/11 cancers."

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