The U.S. may spend as much as $147 million through 2016 to pay for the medical care of responders to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks who are diagnosed with breast, liver and other types of cancers.
About 50 cancers will be covered by the money, which is part of a $1.5 billion federal health-care fund for rescuers, cleanup crews and others exposed to carcinogens at or near New York’s World Trade Center. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the proposal in a regulatory filing yesterday, which would also cover the other Sept. 11 sites, at the Pentagon in suburban Washington and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
“Cancer incidence among responders and survivors is a tragic fact, and we must continue to do everything we can to provide the help that those who are sick need and deserve,” U.S. Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Peter King, all of New York, said in a statement.
The proposed decision by John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, reverses the government’s position that there was insufficient evidence directly linking toxic debris and smoke to cancers developed by some responders. A study by the New York Fire Department found that firefighters who worked in the rubble of the trade center were 19 percent more likely to develop cancer than their peers.
“We recognize how personal the issue of cancer and all of the health conditions related to the World Trade Center tragedy are to 9/11 responders, survivors and their loved ones,” said Howard, who oversees the program, in a statement on its website.
The government estimates cancer care paid for by Howard’s fund will cost $65 million to $147 million through 2016. The larger figure is based on an assumption that the number of people treated by the fund almost doubles, to 110,000, and that cancer rates among them are 21 percent higher than in the U.S. population.
Almost 3,000 people were killed when terrorists hijacked and crashed four commercial airliners at three sites in September 2001. The $1.5 billion medical fund was created on Jan. 2, 2011, when President Barack Obama signed legislation reactivating a program that operated from 2001 to 2003 to help those suffering from the attack and its aftermath. Cancer wasn’t included as an ailment that qualified a person for compensation from the new funds.
A scientific advisory committee recommended March 31 that the fund cover many cancers, including those of the lungs, breast and digestive system. The committee cited the New York firefighters study, and said it based the recommendation primarily on the existence of about 70 known and potential carcinogens detected in smoke and debris from the attack.
The special master of a related non-medical victims’ compensation fund, Sheila Birnbaum, has said that covering cancer may cause the health fund to run out of money faster than expected.
Responders and survivors with cancer, or their families, may also be eligible for payments from Birnbaum’s $2.8 billion fund because of Howard’s decision. People seeking compensation from that fund must prove they or their family member were at a site of attack before May 30, 2002, and that their conditions resulted from the attacks or the cleanup, she said in a statement.
Among the cancers that are excluded from coverage are pancreas, prostate and brain, according to the filing.
Howard’s agency is taking public comments on the proposal for 30 days before he makes a final decision on coverage.