“They didn't tell us something could happen to people”; the shadow of cancer after 9/11

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Jaquelin Febrillet He was 26 years old and worked two blocks from the Twin Towers when the planes kidnapped by the jihadists they were shot down September 11, 2001.

In 2016, 15 years after the most attacks bloody history, this professional trade unionist, now the mother of three children, was diagnosed with a metastatic cancer. The only logical explanation: the ash cloud and toxic waste in which she found herself immersed on the day of the catastrophe.

Richard Fahrer, today 37, he worked frequently in the south of Manhattan as a surveyor of 2001 to 2003.

18 months ago, after suffering stomach pains, the doctors They detected this young father with aggressive colon cancer, a disease that generally affects much older men, and for which he had no predisposition.

Beyond about 3 thousand people deceased and more than 6 thousand wounds in the collapse of the World Trade Center, New York hasn't finished counting people yet cancer patients and other serious ills, especially of lung, linked to the toxic cloud He planned for weeks over the south of the island.


Tens of thousands of firefighters, rescuers, doctors or volunteers mobilized towards the “Ground Zero”, where the Towers were erected, were the first affected.

Already in 2011, a study published in the The Lancet scientific journal It showed that these people faced increased risks of cancer.

A census of WTC Health Program, a federal health program reserved for survivors of the attacks, reported cancer in 10 thousand of them.

Jaquelin Febrillet or Richard Fahrer they are part of the “common” personnel who worked or resided in southern Manhattan when the attacks occurred, a category of patients that continues to increase.

At the end of last June, more than 21 thousand of them had registered in the health program, twice more than in June 2016.

And of those 21 thousand, about 4 thousand They were diagnosed with cancer, especially prostate, breast or skin.

“It is impossible for an individual to determine the exact cause (of a cancer), since no blood test comes with the WTC label,” but several studies showed that “the cancer rate increased between 10% and 30% in exposed individuals. “David Prezant, chief medical officer of New York firefighters, told AFP.

And this rate is expected to increase in the future, due to the aging of exposed people – cancer risks increase with age – and the nature of certain cancers, such as lung or mesothelioma, which takes 20 to 30 years to develop, he said.


It was in this context that President Donald Trump ratified at the end of July a law that postponed from 2020 to 2090 the deadline to file lawsuits before a special federal compensation fund.

The fund must be regularly refinanced, after having exhausted its initial budget of 7 thousand 300 million dollars, with an average compensation of 240 thousand dollars per patient and 682 thousand dollars per deceased person

After postponing the deadline of the Fund several times, Congress recognized that it should be possible to cover “a person who was a baby (during the attacks), until the end of his life,” explains the lawyer Matthew Baione, which represents Febrillet and Fahrer in their compensation proceedings.

> “There was never an attack comparable to September 11,” he said. “No one could predict what would happen to billions of tons of building materials in combustion for 99 days,” which released unpublished quantities of chemicals into the air, including dioxins, asbestos and other carcinogens.

Waiting to know all the consequences of the tragedy for their health, Febrillet and Fahrer deplore that New York City did not do more after the attacks to protect residents and workers in the neighborhood.

“There could have been more efforts to limit the exposure of healthy adults and prevent them from entering the area of ​​the catastrophe,” Fahrer said.

The priority was that “the city returned to normal, that the NYSE it reopened after several days, “but” they never told us something could happen to people, “Febrillet emphasizes.

> Today “We no longer ask 'How is this guy doing ?; We ask' How was the operation? How does the treatment progress? '”, explains this woman who has several colleagues who are sick or died. “We are so young, it shouldn't be like that.”



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