Top New York doctors are concerned that the dust cloud that fell on the city after the World Trade Center attack could have contained cancer-causing agents and say individuals who breathed it should be tracked more closely for medical problems, including cancer.
A Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center oncologist, Dr. Larry Norton, said there is "every reason to expect" that the debris could have been carcinogenic.
While he stopped short of predicting higher cancer rates among those who breathed in the air, saying there was no evidence to rely on at this point, the doctor said there is enough concern about ailments, including cancers of the esophagus, head, and neck, to ramp up studies, screenings, and treatments.
"What I'm basically saying is that this requires very serious study and I don't see the funds being made available to really do the proper studies," said Dr. Norton, the physician-in-chief for the breast cancer program at the hospital.
"I don't have the answers, but it bothers me a lot that I may never have the answers," he added. "The whole nation mobilized to handle the acute health consequences of this disaster. Why isn't the whole nation mobilizing to take care of the chronic health impact of this disaster?"
An associate professor of public health and medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, Dr. Nathaniel Hupert, who has lived in Battery Park City since before the World Trade Center attacks, said he is also concerned about the health risks people were exposed to.
He said his dog, an Australian shepherd, developed intestinal cancer and died about two years after the attacks and that he knows several neighborhood dogs that also died seemingly prematurely.
The Harvard trained medical doctor and master of public health, called the dogs "our canary in the coalmine" and said the city's wide-scale World Trade Center Health Registry should be incorporating questions about pets into its surveys to gather scientific data. He said city health officials have been interested in the idea, but say funding is not available.
"It's very short sighted to assume that just because it's not human that it doesn't have something to tell us about human health," Dr. Hupert said.
Last month, after criticism for dragging its feet, the city announced $16 million of funding to establish a WTC Environmental Health Center at Bellevue Hospital that will screen and treat individuals who need care.
Mayor Bloomberg also earmarked $21.6 million over the next five years to ramp up monitoring of health conditions. The expansions supplement the city's World Trade Center Health Registry, which is tracking 70,000 people who were in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. That study is the largest of its kind in the nation.
Dr. Norton said another study done at Mount Sinai Hospital that found 70% of first responders became ill from inhaling toxic dust at ground zero was a "wake up call."
The vocal call from physicians for more federal and state funding comes as elected officials and other have sharpened their focus on the medical consequences that New Yorkers who lived, worked, or went to school in the area could face in the coming years. Until now, much of the attention has focused on the first responders who spent weeks, and sometimes months, breathing air that was filled with pulverized concrete, fiberglass, plastic, asbestos, and metals.
The director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, Dr. Irwin Redlener, applauded the Bloomberg administration for expanding services for World Trade Center-related ailments.
But he said a larger study with federal and state money is needed. The mayor and other politicians have also called for more of federal and state money. During a news conference at Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan over the weekend, Rep. Jerrold Nadler and the president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer, also called for increased federal money to go towards medical studies and services to help the thousands of people who may have developed illnesses.
The news conference after word that one former Stuyvesant student, was diagnosed with the cancer known as Hodgkin's disease. The former student, Amit Friedlander, suspects the toxic dust prompted his illness.
"The fact that we had a huge number of people ingesting, inhaling, and exposed to a toxic soup, which is virtually unprecedented, makes me and my colleges concerned about short-and-long-term consequences," Dr. Redlener said.
"That's different than saying we have evidence of increased malignancy rates," he said. "But I think we have a situation that warrants very careful watching."
Dr. Redlener said he was particularly worried about children who were exposed and the potential health problems they could face over the next "10, 20, or 30 years."