You didn’t have to be in New York City on 9-11 to know how bad the air was for your body. The acrid smoke and dust, in shades of gray, brown and yellow, poured out from the rubble and covered vast tracts of the city. People in Brooklyn would later report finding high levels of asbestos in their apartments. You could hardly be surprised that the dust created chronic respiratory problems for those with prolonged exposure.
But what Kristen Lombardi writes about in this week’s cover story is another matter. Some 75 recovery workers—people who spent weeks and months around the pile of rubble—have developed cancers of the blood. Enough people have gotten sick that scientists are beginning to suspect we may be looking at a cancer cluster—a 9-11 cancer cluster.
Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action, reported on a cancer cluster in Woburn, Massachusetts, which many believed was caused by industrial pollutants in the water. Harr says that it’s hard to prove what causes a cluster, and that you have to approach them with a measure of caution. “The criticism is that you wait for proof and meanwhile people are dying,” he argues. “But proceeding on the basis of alarm is also the wrong thing to do.”
How about you? Need more evidence? Ready to sound the alarm? Wondering whether it’s too late?