11 years later, some health impacts of 9/11 still unknown

    The federal government will soon start covering treatment costs for more than 50 types of cancer for survivors, first-responders and clean-up workers at the World Trade Center site of the 9/11 terrorists attacks. The rule is set to be published in the federal register Wednesday. 

    Dr. Iris Udasin has been treating and tracking the health of first-responders in North Jersey since 2003 as the lead investigator in New Jersey for the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program.

    She said the link is relatively well established between World Trade Center exposure and conditions such as asthma and upper-respiratory issues.

    “Those conditions have given rise to complications such as sleep apnea (and) gastroesophageal reflux,” Udasin said. “Those are the physical health issues that we have very clearly seen increasing numbers.”

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    The evidence linking exposure to cancer is much more limited. Specific types of cancer were included in the federal health plan based on plausibility, taking into account which types of toxins were at the 9/11 disaster site and their known effects on human health.

    But anecdotally, Udasin said she has seen more cancer, and in younger patients, especially faster-developing blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.

    “There’s a scholarship fund for children of police officers that need to go to college and their father has cancer,” Udasin said. “And, unfortunately, I’ve written too many of those letters.”

    Udasin said with the expanded eligibility criteria for federal funding, a new priority in her office will be screening to catch cancer early.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no additional health conditions are currently being considered for coverage.

    Responders to the Shanksville, Pa., and Pentagon crash sites are expected to be able to enroll for the federal health benefits by the end of the year.

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