9/11 Attacks: High leukemia cases found among World Trade Center rescue workers

Researchers studied post-September 11 cancer incidence among 28,729 rescue and recovery workers via cancer registry data from New York

Rescuers who worked at the World Trade Center site immediately after the attacks on September 11, 2001, have an increased overall cancer incidence compared to the general population, particularly in thyroid cancer, prostate cancer, as studies in the past revealed but for the first time, leukemia has been added to their woes.

A Mount Sinai study published in JNCI Cancer Spectrum in January 2020 examined 50,000 rescue and recovery teams who worked at the ground zero following the attacks on the World Trade Center, with many of them caught directly in the dust cloud from the collapsing towers. From then until cleanup of the site till June 2002, workers were potentially exposed to an array of toxins later shown to cause adverse health effects, including cancer.


This study examined cancer incidence in responders including law enforcement, construction, and telecommunications workers, and found an increased overall cancer incidence, with the greatest elevation in thyroid cancer. But for the first time, it saw an increase in leukemia cases, which is known to occur after exposure to occupational carcinogens, including benzene fuel and other sources that existed at the World Trade Center site, in some cases at low levels of exposure and with a latency of several years from exposure.

Researchers also found that the length of time did not matter. Some risk factors, such as responders' age on September 11, their gender, and whether they were smokers -- were associated with increased cancer risk, underlining the need for continued surveillance.


"This study showed increased incidence of several cancer types compared to previously conducted studies with shorter follow-up periods," said Susan Teitelbaum, Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Researchers studied post-September 11 cancer incidence among 28,729 rescue and recovery workers via cancer registry data from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina from 2002 through 2013 for the finding.

Although the incidence of certain cancers, such as lung, was not elevated in their findings, they believe that may be due to the long time periods over which these cancers develop. "It is possible that increased rates of other cancers, as well as World Trade Center exposure health issues, may emerge after longer periods of study," said Teitelbaum.