Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article|
By Michele McPhee, NY Daily News, May
Cancer shows up long after Sept. 11
In the agonizing hours after the towers collapsed on Sept. 11, Brooklyn Firefighter Pete
Strahl was on his belly, crawling in a tunnel of debris under 7 World Trade Center to
reach an injured civilian.
The victim, with broken bones and a split-open head, was carried to safety by Strahl and
his fellow Engine 236 firefighters. Their act of bravery was one of several retold in a
Daily News front-page story "The Great Rescue of Sept. 11."
Strahl is now battling a deadly throat cancer. His lung tests are also showing chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, dubbed the "World Trade Center cough" by medical
"They took out my voice box," said Strahl, a 21-year FDNY veteran who retired in
August 2002, just months after doctors found a malignant neoplasm of the larynx in his
"My doctor feels it was definitely caused by 9/11. To me, I don't know. I'm a
firefighter, not a doctor. But they can't tell me it definitely isn't because of what was
in the air down there," he said.
Strahl's oncologist, Louis Rosner, said he believes the 47-year-old father of three
developed cancer because of his work on Sept. 11 and in the days after.
"It is my professional opinion that the toxic exposure to known carcinogens at the
World Trade Center site was a significant contributing factor to Mr. Strahl's
diagnosis," Rosner wrote in a letter to the Sept. 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
Strahl originally applied for money to settle a knee injury, but he rejected the award
when he learned he had cancer. He made a new application and testified two weeks ago
before a judge representing the fund.
The difficulty for Strahl and other first responders at the World Trade Center is that
they must prove their illnesses are job-related. So far, there is no medical evidence
linking Ground Zero to cancer.
"We have no interest in denying people what they have coming to them,"said NYPD
Supervising Chief Surgeon Eli Kleinman, who heads the department's medical board.
"But everything has to be done on a scientific basis."
Detectives Bill Ryan and Ed Wallace were denied tax-free pensions equal to three-quarters
of their salaries. They worked side-by-side at Ground Zero. Ryan was assigned to the arson
and explosion squad and had been one of the lead investigators in the 1993 Trade Center
bombing. Wallace was assigned to the crime scene unit.
Both were in elite units that required them to have yearly lung X-rays and breathing
tests. In the summer of 2001, both said they had healthy, clear X-rays.
It is a much different picture today. Both suffer shortness of breath, chronic coughs and
exhaustion all symptoms of sarcoidosis, a permanent lung condition they believe they
got while working on "the pile."
"All these politicians say we are never going to forget the heroes," said Ryan,
41, who retired in January after 20 years. "Well, they already did."
Too late for fund aid
The deadline to apply for financial help from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund
passed on Dec. 22, 2003.
Advocates and lawyers fear that some serious, even critical, health problems related to
9/11 will not become apparent until months or years later, too late to apply to the fund.
Attorney Michael Barasch, who represents Pete Strahl and a slew of other emergency
workers, said he has 73 clients who missed the deadline.
He is trying to persuade Special Master Kenneth Feinberg to open those claims.
"Their injuries were not diagnosed until after the deadline. But cancer doesn't have
a calendar. Their lungs weren't informed of the deadline to apply," Barasch said.
"The fund was very fair to people who had orthopedic injuries but very unfair to
people who had latent diseases who were not diagnosed prior to the deadline."
FAIR USE NOTICE
This article contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been
specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my
efforts to advance understanding of democracy, economic, environmental, human rights,
political, scientific, and social justice issues, among others. I believe this constitutes
a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US
Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107,
the material in this article is distributed without profit for research and educational
Take me back to learn more