NY Times - May 29, 2012by Anemona Hartocollis
Workman had been a volunteer at ground zero for about two years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "They've asked me a thousand times since then, didn't they give you masks, gloves or anything?" she said of her doctors and friends. "They didn't."
Workman and others who believe their cancers were caused by toxic substances released by the fall of the World Trade Center are due to learn this week whether they may be treated and compensated from a $4.3 billion fund set aside by Congress.
An advisory committee in March found justification for covering 14 broad categories of cancer, raising expectations that the fund would cover at least some of them. But such a decision would create a logistical quagmire, advocates for patients and government officials conceded, and could strain the fund's resources.
"Depending on the numbers of cancers and the criteria for those cancers, we would certainly be getting more and different claims than we were receiving previously," said Sheila Birnbaum, the special master overseeing the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund. "We cannot add any more money to the fund, so we would have to prorate what we're giving to people depending on the amount of people that apply, the seriousness of their injuries, the economic loss that they've sustained."
The advisory committee found some evidence linking Sept. 11 to increased rates of cancer, but existing studies are far from conclusive. And since there is probably no way to distinguish those who developed cancer from ground zero from those who might have developed it anyway, anyone who can prove sustained exposure could potentially be eligible for payment.
After heavy lobbying by the administration of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Congress in 2010 approved the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named after a police officer who died after working at ground zero. It allocated $2.8 billion for compensation for those sickened by World Trade Center dust, smoke and fumes, or their survivors. It also set aside $1.5 billion for treatment and monitoring.
The law listed certain ailments that could be covered by the fund, almost all respiratory. It did not cover cancer but said evidence would be periodically reviewed to determine if it should.
Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is expected to rule by Saturday on whether to accept the advisory committee's recommendation. If he does, no one knows for sure how many more people will become eligible for the fund.
So far, more than 5,000 people have registered for the fund, but fewer than 400 of them have actually submitted claims, according to Birnbaum, the special master. Many, she presumes, are still gathering documentation to prove they are eligible.
Federal officials estimate that up to 35,000 people could ultimately sign up, even without cancer's inclusion.
Paul Gerasimczyk, a police officer, was sent downtown as the first tower collapsed. He served 12-hour shifts six days a week for "a very long time," he said. He retired in 2005, and then got what has become known as the World Trade Center cough. In 2007, he was told that he had renal cell cancer, which is also on the committee list.
"People who have yet to get sick, I imagine a lot of them will end up indigent," Gerasimczyk, 53, said.