This Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York. Among the casualties sustained that day, were a number of first responders who, instead of running away from dangerous ash clouds that enveloped the streets of Manhattan, ran toward them in the hopes that they would be able to help save lives. This country owes a debt of gratitude to these heroes, who put their own lives on the line to help others.
But all the gratitude in the world isn't going to cover the high costs of fighting the battle against cancers like multiple myeloma. Apparently, neither is the U.S. Government, which despite having enacted the $4.3 billion James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, has denied claims that toxic exposure from 9/11 attacks has any correlation to the increased rates of cancer appearing in the men and women who were directly exposed to the toxic environment surrounding the fallen towers in the aftermath of the tragedy.
I respectfully disagree.
Dr. Philip J Landrigan, head of a Sept 11th treatment, monitoring, and research program at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, said in the NY Times that "we know full well that the responders were exposed to a whole soup of carcinogens." Carcinogens are chemicals known to cause cancer including myeloma, chemicals like those found in Agent Orange. As the direct link to multiple myeloma has been studied and established, the Veteran's Administration now fully compensates myeloma patients who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
I believe the direct link between the "carcinogenic soup" that the first-responders were exposed to during 9/11 has also been established. We already know there was exposure to cancer causing chemicals at the World Trade Center. The levels of chemicals were measured in the blood and tissues of first responders, and a report detailing the findings in seven patients with myeloma was published just last year. Since then, even more cases have been discovered.
There are three papers published in the British journal The Lancet on September 1, 2011 evaluating nearly 10,000 male fire department personnel. The study affirms the toxic impact of the 9/11 exposures and the increased occurrence of lung problems, as well as a range of other medical problems including cancer. There is a specific increase in non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, a blood cancer similar to myeloma, which is also linked to the same causative factors. For myeloma, a rarer cancer, the numbers are currently small. Unfortunately, myeloma has been occurring in not just men but also in young women (which is very unusual for myeloma) who were first responders, but that data was not included in the recent Lancet publications.
I believe the case has been made. Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, and Peter King, authors of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, also believe the case has been made. It took the emphatic support of Admiral Zumwalt, whose son developed lymphoma after service in Vietnam, to push through legislation to compensate Vietnam Veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
As Americans, we need to speak up on behalf of the brave men and women who heroically displayed the true American spirit by responding during a crisis a decade ago. I call upon not just the myeloma community, but also our entire nation, to demand justice for our men and women in civil service. We need to push for expanded coverage for cancer through the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. If you want to help, contact the IMF Advocacy team at [email protected].
Dr. Brian G.M. Durie serves as Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. Additionally, he is Chairman of the IMF's International Myeloma Working Group, a consortium of nearly 200 myeloma experts from around the world. Dr. Durie also leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative®.