Thursday, May 31, 2007

Could Jesse's leukemia have origins in the WTC disaster?

We lived close enough to the site that when the planes hit, I stood on our avenue and watched our national nightmare begin. Jesse was stuck in the Bronx that night, staying with friends from school, but over the months afterward we were all experiencing smoke and dust in the house, on the street, everywhere. The Armory right near us was a base for the responders. My younger son wore a face mask every day until the fires had died down, but I don't think Jesse did, especially after the first few days. I don't know how close he ever went to the site, I don't even know if he ever went down and volunteered. It'd be just like him to do that and never let on to anyone what he'd done to help.

If what Mt. Sinai suspects is true, and more and more people are going to be contracting plasma cell cancers, including APL, then New York and New Jersey need to know the symptoms of leukemia so they can get early treatment. Our doctors in Chicago called it the "good" cancer because there is a cure. The hitch is, if you don't catch it in the first week or so, you die of it. Jesse first noticed possible symptoms of a relapse around January 9th. He didn't go to the hospital until January 16th. Could that week have saved his life? I'll never know, but you can bet that I'm going to find a way to make sure Jesse's story saves someone else's life if that's at all possible.

Third wave of ills from WTC seen
Mount Sinai docs fear new cancers
Thursday, May 31st 2007, 4:00 AM

Responders to the 9/11 terror attacks could face a devastating "third wave" of illnesses - blood and lymphatic cancers - related to their exposure to Ground Zero air, says the director of the largest treatment program for those workers.
Though many scientists have cautioned that it's too soon to link cancers to toxins at the site, doctors at Mount Sinai's World Trade Center medical monitoring program are now seeing surprising cases of plasma-cell cancers in people who were there, said Dr. Robin Herbert.
"We know we have a handful of cases of multiple myeloma in very young individuals, and multiple myeloma is a condition that almost always presents later in life, so that's the kind of odd, unusual and troubling finding that we're seeing already," Herbert said in an online audio interview in advance of today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Doctors at Mount Sinai are trying to verify cases of leukemia and lymphoma reported by any of the more than 20,000 responders they've examined, she said.
More than 120 people with those cancers are part of a class-action lawsuit alleging negligence by the city and its contractors at Ground Zero, said lawyer David Worby.
"People are afraid of the C-word, cancer. It's taken hundreds of people getting sick this way for Mount Sinai to say, 'We are more than concerned,'" Worby said. "Washington and Mount Sinai should draw up an entire platform of blood tests and precancer tests."
Herbert was unavailable for an interview, but in the Journal she described three waves of post-9/11 illnesses.
The first was the stubborn, dry "World Trade Center cough" stemming from pulverized cement there and seen in the months just after the disaster.
The second wave involves chronic respiratory diseases that cause lung inflammation and scarring.
Cancers could be the third wave among responders exposed to asbestos, dioxins and other carcinogens at Ground Zero, Herbert said.
Although the "full range" of those toxins will never be known, "you really worry when you have a mix of chemicals about the possibility of [a] synergistic effect," she said.


  1. I have a friend - well, more a former friend, from the pastoral town of Alpine Utah who, whilst enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Utah, developed Hodgkins. We were both doing work with the medical school (long story), and interacting with an obscure bunch of medical educators, clinicans and computer geeks, and one day I came up with a funny (not really) little piece of trivia: Nothern Utah County (where Alpine is located), has a statistically unlikely cluster of Hodgkins cases. There was some speculation that the spew of the local (now defunct) steel mill was responsible for it. The valley is shaped like a bowl, the smog can get fierce in the winter if a temperature inversion develops, and it turns out that some of the toxic stuff sort of aggregates up there in that corner of the valley.

    Which isn't proof, of course - correlation, causation, and all that. Just like the cluster of Brain cancer cases that follows the water plume from Hill Airforce Base, crossing the boundary between Weber and Davis counties, in Utah. Surely it can't have anything to do with that chemical they were using to degrease the runways, could it? The one that happens to never degrade?

    But we'll probably never know. Alpine is also downstream from some of the most beautiful water, but though I don't know for certain, I'm quite confident that there are old mine tailings up in the canyons above (safe bet - true of about any canyon in Utah). And of course the place is rotten for granite, which produces radon gas as it degrades, which can be carried into your home in the water...

    Mortality sucks, but living in fear of it all the time only magnifies its prominence. Best to remember, and take whatever reasonable precautions make the most sense, and then let it go.

    I think about you, even though I'm not around so much. Just wanted to say.


  2. My thoughts are with you in your grief, and my questions as well. To admit that some cancers may be related to 911 means that we are just seeing the very tip of a large iceberg. Most carcinogens have a latency period of at least twenty years. Understanding that rare cancers in young people are showing up just six years out is cause for alarm and action. What are we doing for those living in the vicinity or working at the scene to otherwise lower their risk of cancer?

    Lynne Eldridge M.D.
    Author, "Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time"

  3. Dr. Eldridge, re your questions, I'm in the process of contacting the lower Manhattan Rep, Jerrold Nadler as well as Sen. Clinton & Schumer; there's a congressional hearing coming up on this subject. I've been told there's a resident registry for 9-11, but so far haven't been able to locate it, or any research or studies on citizens' cancer rates. I'll post any new information I get; in the meantime, I wonder if it's possible to sue Christie Whitman?

    TK: luckily, in civil cases, it's preponderance of evidence, not proof of causation. ;-) At any rate, there's a trend upward, even if it's not related to 9-11 after all (like I believe it's just coincidence). So my job is still going to be to help draw attention to the trend, make sure people know the initial symptoms of leukemia and get tested as soon as possible. A day can make a difference with APL, and I'm sure it's the case with other myeloid leukemias. I think my work is cut out for me this summer. It's great to hear from you again, btw.


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