Tuesday, June 12, 2012

9/11 Legacy Continues - It Is What It Is

I remember quite clearly the day that this country came under attack by box knife wielding terrorists commandeering airliners as kamikaze bombs into national landmarks. WorkCompCentral was only 9 months old, I had just moved the business out of my garage into a windowless hovel of an office above a fish restaurant (pew!) and I had terrible facial hair that made me look Middle Eastern.

I was driving to the office listening to Howard Stern describe the indescribable. I called one of my business partners and told him the world had just changed, and that I was going home instead of to the office.

Then I watched the television as the towers fell.

I didn't think about workers' compensation then, though obviously that line of insurance was impacted along with property, casualty, life, health and myriad other lines of financial protection.

I honestly didn't think much that day. The visions were haunting. The tenor of the nation was dramatically shaken.

And though life in the United States was about to get a whole lot different for most people, how much it would change was beyond anyone's comprehension.

Many people died on that day. Many more contracted illnesses and injuries that we're still counting.

The mastermind behind these crimes has been killed. Laws have passed and special funds established.

Through it all, continued research has shown that the aftermath of such destruction is much more wide-spread and involved than we all thought possible.

Which has led National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Director Dr. John Howard to propose a rule late Friday that would add more than 50 cancers to the list of diseases that are compensable under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010.

In his 132-page notice of proposed rule-making, Howard cited a study by the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) released last fall that noted a 21% increase in the incidence of cancer among firefighters exposed to toxins during rescue and cleanup following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center.

He noted that the statistics on cancers contracted by 9/11 responders and residents in the areas surrounding the World Trade Center still are being gathered. But, Howard said, he's seen sufficient evidence to include more than 50 cancers for monitoring and treatment by the World Trade Center Treatment Program and for compensation under the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF).

"The administrator believes that it is plausible that the overall rate of cancer in FDNY firefighters may have increased following those firefighters' exposures to 9/11 agents ..." Howard said in the notice.

In his proposed rule, Howard endorsed all of the cancer recommendations made by the World Trade Center Health Program Scientific/Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) when it called upon Howard to add cancers to the Zadroga Act in April.

STAC grouped cancers into 14 major categories and cited a series of recent studies.

STAC reported that it "reviewed available information on cancer outcomes that may be associated with the exposures resulting from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and believes that exposures resulting from the collapse of the buildings and high-temperature fires are likely to increase the probability of developing some or all cancers."

STAC also warned that exposure data are "extremely limited."

Citing the FDNY study, Howard expressed doubts about whether cancer in some patients was specifically linked to the 9/11 attacks.

"The administrator believes that it is plausible that the overall rate of cancer cases in FDNY firefighters may have increased following those firefighters' exposures to 9/11 agents, but agrees with the authors of the (FDNY) study who noted there could be other explanations for the findings," he said.

The expense of treating all of these cancer cases is large to be sure, but not without estimates - up to $147.5 million between 2013 and 2016. Of course not all cancers are going to mature into diagnostic identity for years beyond 2016 so the ultimate cost can not be ascertained.

In the past I had been critical of the 9/11 funds because without the national shock factor of these attacks it is likely that those who were at work would only be entitled to workers' compensation benefits, and those who were not at work likely would get nothing other than what their private insurance may have provided (and certainly not life insurance with war time and terrorist exclusions applicable).

And why just 9/11? How come the nation didn't put together a special fund for victims and responders to Katrina? Would the same response occur if a massive earthquake struck San Francisco during business hours?

But I don't question the nation's response to 9/11 any longer. It is what it is. We move on.

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