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Ground Zero illnesses show complexity of toxic exposure cases

Earlier this month, New Yorkers looked back on the anniversary of September 11. Over the course of this month, we have seen several news stories linking the first responders and other people who worked at the site of the World Trade Center in the days that followed September 11 with nearly 60 types of cancer.

News reports indicate that about 1,100 individuals may have been impacted by cancer due to toxic exposure at Ground Zero. Initially, administrators for the World Trade Center Health Program did not believe that cancer was linked to the World Trade Center site, and workers affected by illness had little help. However, a 2011 study found that firefighters working there had an increased risk of getting cancer at a rate of about 19 percent higher than other people. 

Since that time, 1,100 people who worked at or near ground zero have been certified to receive cancer treatment.

It is good news that Ground Zero workers are getting the help they deserve, but this story demonstrates a few of the incredibly complex issues that workers face when they are exposed to chemical hazards in the workplace. First, unlike a back injury or broken bone, it can take years to detect the harm caused by toxic exposure. In addition, the extent of the harm can be very difficult to ascertain in chemical exposure cases. As a result, the exact nature of treatment that an injured worker needs may be unknown for some time.

Significantly, cases involving workplace illnesses caused by toxic exposure often involve very complicated scientific and medical questions that need to be answered in order to connect the toxic exposure to the symptoms the worker is experiencing.

Source: UPI, "1,100 to get cancer care under WTC Health Program," Sept. 12, 2013

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