A note from Executive Director Chris Owens:
We at Advocates for Justice respect the work of Dr. John Howard. We also believe, however, that there are links between various forms of cancer experienced by victims of 9/11 and the events of that day — and its aftermath. It is our hope that science and the law will move quickly to ensure that justice is done and suffering is minimized. Below is an editorial that we found interesting.
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Doc running WTC program rules out cancer for now, but wisely leaves door open for scientific proof
EDITORIAL: New York Daily News, July 27, 2011
The results of the government's first review of a possible link between exposure to toxins at the World Trade Center site and cancer have understandably raised ire among sick and desperate first responders. But the finding – that there isn't enough proof yet to justify the new 9/11 compensation fund covering cancer cases – was the only responsible conclusion.
In his report, Dr. John Howard, head of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, explained how he and his advisory panel exhaustively scrubbed the evidence: They examined 294 medical journal articles in 18 publications, asked experts for input and other research and solicited public comments.
Howard took as a given that some responders were likely exposed to carcinogens among the 287 types of chemicals that poisoned the air at Ground Zero. He noted some frightening hints, such as a 2009 study by doctors at Mount Sinai Medical Center that found four cases of multiple myeloma in responders under age 45.
But it wasn't enough. Articles that mentioned both the WTC and cancer, Howard wrote, "did not contain any quantitative data concerning cancer as a health outcome." He noted, "An observed association may not be a causal one."
With potentially tens thousands of responders and others seeking treatment and a share of $2.8 billion in compensation, the rules must be fair all around. Illnesses covered must be proven – scientifically, not anecdotally – to be linked to exposure to the dust and debris downtown.
That may be painful, but it is sound policy. Howard's job is to prove cause and effect. And on this issue, he has absolute credibility.
As head of NIOSH, Howard was the only member of the Bush administration to acknowledge that inhaling toxins downtown caused the lung ailments suffered by thousands of rescue and recovery workers. For his trouble, he was fired. He was rehired by the Obama administration and named administrator of the national World Trade Center Health Program.
A denier, he is not.
What he is, is a careful scientist and physician ultimately responsible for the way billions of public dollars will be spent. A scientist and physician who knows that for the average American man, the chance of developing cancer in a lifetime is 1 in 2 – and 1 in 3 for the average American woman.
He must go by the numbers. And they're not there yet. But his job is nowhere near done.
Howard is planning another review at the beginning or middle of next year, when there may well be far more concrete evidence.
Mount Sinai, for example, is examining 60 types of cancer for elevated numbers of cases among responders and comparing that data against the New York State cancer registry. The city's WTC Health Registry is comparing diagnoses against databases in 11 states where the majority of responders live.
In September, the British medical journal Lancet is due to publish an entire issue devoted to 9/11 health effects – including the results of a comprehensive study of cancer cases in the Fire Department. And next year, the WTC Registry is due to publish its findings.
If the proof is out there, Howard will find it.
Until then, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.