The World Trade Center bombing was an unprecedented event that claimed more than 2,700 lives that day and affected countless others. The full cost of that attack may still be unknown, as concern has grown over an increase in cancers caused by exposure to materials and substances with carcinogenic properties. Many of the cancer cases involve rescue and recovery workers who suffered substantial exposure during the immediacy of the crisis itself. Cancer rates may also have risen among people who lived, worked, or went to school in the area even if they were not directly involved in rescue or recovery operations.
Several studies are being conducted about New York State residents and cancer rates. A study of male firefighters in the Fire Department of the City of New York, there was an increase in cancer rates of 19 percent for firefighters who were exposed to the World Trade Center site as opposed to those that were not. The most common types of cancer identified were prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, melanoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The most recent study looked at the rate of cancer suffered by rescue and recovery workers and volunteers and compared it to cancer rates by people not involved in the rescue or recovery operations. All the people reviewed were in the World Trade Center Health Registry composed of New York City residents in the area. The study concluded that rescue and recovery workers suffered increased prostate and thyroid cancers and multiple myeloma. They study authors suggested that the results should be interpreted with caution because of the short follow-up time, lack of analysis of other risk factors, and lack of data on how patients were medically screened.
Workplace exposure to toxic chemicals, carcinogens or other harmful substances is a known problem. Employers are required to take proper precautions to protect workers from the effects of exposure. The World Trade Center attack was obviously not something that could have been predicted, but it is still important to look at the potential impact on the health and safety of the people who worked or volunteered to save innocent lives and clean up the damage.
Source: The Journal of the American Medical Association, “Association Between World Trade Center Exposure and Excess Cancer Risk,” 19 December 2012