1,140 9/11 responders and others exposed to the toxic fumes and debris from the World Trade Center (WTC) wreckage have been diagnosed with cancer. A 2013 Mount Sinai Medical Center study found the cancer rate to be 15% higher among those exposed to WTC wreckage compared to the general population. However, the study refrained from affirming a definitive link, and previous studies have also cautioned against making such a claim. While more scientific research is completed, it is best to assume the worst and continue to provide free treatment for those exposed.
As of August, the most common types of cancer in the exposed population are nonmelanoma skin cancer, melanoma of skin, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. If someone is certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to have a WTC-related cancer like those mentioned, then he or she may eligible for free treatment.
Originally, the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act allotted only $4.3 billion for the treatment of responders only afflicted with respiratory illnesses like asthma. Quickly after a New York Fire Department study found that firefighters at wreckage sites were 19% more likely to develop cancer, the federal government added about 50 types of cancer to the list of illnesses covered by the legislation.
Nonetheless, a 2012 study by New York City's Health Department found no link between cancer and the debris. After looking at 23 cancers in a group of 55,700 people present at ground zero, no discernible increase was found in the cancer rate compared to the general population. Nor were cancer rates higher among those who were exposed more intensely to the fumes. Yet the authors of this study and the Mount Sinai study stress that cancer can take decades to develop, so a link may present itself in the future.
In the meantime, the government should make sure that all those afflicted by cancer or respiratory illnesses are adequately treated. If, in the future, it turns out that there was no link between cancer and the WTC wreckage, then at the worst the federal government will have spent money saving people's lives. So far, 1,000 deaths are linked to illnesses caused by toxic dust from the towers' remains. It's best we try to keep that number from rising.