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Mount Sinai has found no notable spike yet in cancers among the 27,000 ground zero workers it has been tracking, Landrigan said.
Top doctors for the Fire Department, who are conducting a second big study involving 15,000 firefighters, have said they also found no clear increase in cancers. The third and biggest effort, being conducted by the city's health department also hasn't found elevated cancer rates among 71,000 Lower Manhattan residents.
That doesn't mean there is no danger, Landrigan said.
"We know full well that there were carcinogens at ground zero. There was asbestos. There was benzene. There were other things," Landrigan said.
He said he and other researchers had "big concerns" that cancer clusters will emerge as the years go by.
Scientists think environmental toxins cause cancer by damaging cells, which then go through a series of mutations before becoming malignant. That mutation process usually takes place very slowly.
Malignant mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos, for example, can take 30 years to manifest, which means that if trade center dust does indeed cause cancer, it would likely not start appearing until after the present court cases are resolved.
All of those uncertainties had been reflected in the court fight.
An analysis performed by two court-appointed officials in September said that of the 802 plaintiffs then involved in the case who claimed to have cancer, 188 said they had skin cancer, 107 said they had lung cancer, 95 said they had lymphoma, 68 had prostate cancer and 66 had liver cancer. Those five types of cancer are all common.
One defendant in the case, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, had asked the judge to order the plaintiffs to provide more proof of a link between cancer and the trade center dust.
"Even if WTC debris were potentially carcinogenic, it is unlikely -- indeed, without compelling evidence, scientifically impossible -- that numerous cancers would have already arisen from the plaintiffs' relatively recent and short-term exposures to WTC debris," lawyers for the agency wrote.
Before the settlement was announced, a dozen cases were set to go to trial, starting in May.
One involved a firefighter who died of esophageal cancer in 2007 at age 47. His lawyers were prepared to argue that ingested dust from the trade center gave him acid reflux, which in turn damaged the cells in his throat, which then caused his cancer.
A number of studies have documented high rates of acid reflux disease among ground zero responders.
Those trials are now on hold, as is the settlement, while the lawyers on each side decide what to do next.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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