Occupational Health News Roundup

A study just published in The Lancet compares the incidence rates of cancers in firefighters who worked at the World Trade Center site during and after the 9/11 attacks to the rates in firefighters not exposed to the disaster or its aftermath. Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Montefiore Medical Center and the New York Fire Department’s Bureau of Health Services found that WTC firefighters had an overall cancer incidence ratio about 10% higher than that of a general population with similar demographics and 32% higher than that of non-WTC firefighters.

Firefighters who responded to the WTC disaster and have since been diagnosed with cancer may be wishing this study had been published just a few months earlier. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which passed last year, requires NIOSH to review the peer-reviewed literature on cancer in WTC responders — and if NIOSH thinks there’s enough evidence to add any type of cancer to the list of WTC-related conditions, then people who worked on the WTC rescue, recovery, and cleanup operations who develop that kind of cancer will be eligible to have their medical care covered by the World Trade Center Health Program. NIOSH released the first review in July; it found mixed results in the studies and stated, “insufficient evidence exists at this time to propose a rule to add cancer, or a certain type of cancer, to the List of WTC-Related Health Conditions.”

The New York Times’ Sydney Ember got reactions from people knowledgeable about the research and legislation, and none of them said this latest study would by itself tip the scales for cancer to become a WTC-related condition. NIOSH’s spokesman said the new research would be included in the second review, which will happen in early/mid-2012.

In other news:

Washington Post: Nineteen miners were rescued after being trapped underground for a week in a flooded mine in China’s Heilongjiang province. Rescuers continued to search for three miners who were still missing.

EHS Today: Several worker health advocates – including Public Citizen, Farmworker Justice, and United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America – have petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a standard on heat exposure.

NPR: After a Washington Post investigation exposed horrific conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Army hired thousands of new people to care for wounded soldiers. Conditions have improved, but challenges remain – especially with a shortage of behavioral specialists and an over-reliance on drugs.

New York Times op-ed: The J-1 visa Summer Work program is meant to provide enriching opportunities to foreign students, but many participants are doing menial work for low hourly wages.

National Institutes of Health: NIH is working with the Department of Defense to build a central database on traumatic brain injuries, which will assist with research into brain-injury diagnosis and treatment.