9/11 First responders – how the media reported The Lancet studies

Yesterday, I posted on 3 studies in The Lancet on 9/11 health issues from survivors at the WTC. Quick summary: 9/11 rescue and recovery workers and other WTC-exposed people are living longer, but possibly sicker, than average. They are not dying in greater numbers from heart & lung diseases or cancer, but the 8927 FDNY responders at the WTC may have from 4 – 38 additional cancers since 9/11. 

My media score card:

ArticleCovers all 3 studies with balanceDiscusses control groupDiscusses surveillance biasFree from serious errorOverall grade



The Guardian

        √     √

HuffPo       √      D
Medical News Today mortality,  cancer & chronic

        √     √



LA Times cancer and LA Times chronic     √

MSNBC      F
NYT       √


WSJ almost       √


How did the media report on these studies? Only the Associated Press (David Caruso), Medical News TodayMedscape and Sarah Boseley at The Guardian seem to have reported the all-cause mortality study prominently, but the WSJ coverage comes very close and gets bonus points for its graphic.

How did the NYT report these 3 studies?

Study Suggests Higher Cancer Risk for 9/11 Firefighters


A new study says firefighters who toiled in the wreckage of the World Trade Center in 2001 were 19 percent more likely to develop cancer than those who were not there, the strongest evidence to date of a possible link between work at ground zero and cancer.

The two other studies are buried near the end, with the mortality study inappropriately minimized:

The Lancet also published other reports related to the Sept. 11 attacks on Thursday, including one by researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center showing the persistence of respiratory, gastrointestinal and mental illness among rescue and recovery workers. Another report, by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, however, indicated a lower mortality rate among recovery and rescue workers compared to the general population of New York City. Its authors attributed the lower rate to the “healthy-worker effect” — those present at the site were more likely to be employed, a group typically healthier than the general population.

The data from the mortality study did not find the differences to be due to the “healthy worker effect.” That was one possible hypothesis offered in the discussion section. What the study found was remarkably lower SMR. I’m also troubled by the final paragraph in the NYT story, where the chronic disease study PI said he “had no doubt that time would reveal a connection between certain cancers and exposure to the trade center site.”

Other media reporting on the Lancet articles, mainly the FDNY cancer study: Bloomberg; LA Times (cancer and chronic, but no mortality coverage); MSNBC (mistakenly claiming that ” those exposed as a 9/11 rescuer had a 19 percent rate of any type of cancer.”); HuffPo (which noted that the cancer study was “conducted” by the FDNY; several authors hold positions at FDNY but funding was NIOSH); HuffPo also discussed the push to get NIOSH to reverse the July decision to exclude cancer from the Zadroga Act’s list of covered conditions); WSJ (with an excellent graphic on the prostate & lung cancer data); and the KHN list.

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