Firefighters who worked at Ground Zero have a 19% greater chance of contracting cancer than those who did not, a landmark new medical study found.
The report out Thursday argues it is "biologically plausible" to link exposure to the smoldering World Trade Center site to cancer - a finding that could open the door to changing the federal ruling that denied Zadroga Act benefits to cancer-stricken responders.
"The study clearly shows that World Trade Center exposure in these firefighters led to an increase in cancer," said Dr. David Prezant, the FDNY's chief medical officer.
The report will be printed this month in the medical journal The Lancet.
Doctors studied more than 9,800 firefighters, including 8,927 men who spent time at Ground Zero between 9/11 and the day the site closed in July 2002. Of those firefighters exposed to the toxic site, 263 developed cancer - which is also a 10% jump over what doctors would find in the general public.
The finding vindicated many first responders, several of whom are gravely ill, who were devastated when the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health ruled in July that cancer could not be linked to Twin Tower toxins - and therefore would not be covered by the Zadroga Act.
"They have to do what is morally right," said 9/11 activist John Feal, a construction worker who lost half his foot at The Pit. "We're sick and dying, but we will fight them on this."
"If they don't use this medical evidence to add cancer now then they are not going to use anything," said Retired FDNY Kenny Specht, 43, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2007.
"For 10 years we have been told wait, wait for the medical studies," said Specht. "If this is not enough, the hell with it, stop pretending to be working on it, let us die."
Dr. John Howard, who oversees the World Trade Center Health Program, did not have access to the FDNY study when he made his ruling, but he will review the data when he is required to revisit his decision next year, his spokesman said.
Elected officials can petition the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation fund now to ask for a review - and Rep. Carolyn Maloney said she would ask Dr. Howard for that review immediately.
The FDNY report - which tracked smokers and non-smokers separately - revealed an uptick in certain types of cancer among the firefighters, including melanoma, leukemia and cancers of the stomach, colon and prostate.