The American government acknowledged for the first time Monday a link between the toxic conditions at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and several different types of cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a final rule officially recognizing that first responders and others at the World Trade Center site may have contracted some type of cancer from the exposure.
As a result of the move, cancer victims will be able to apply for federal compensation from the $2.8 billion fund established under the Zadroga Act, passed by Congress in 2010, which was designed to provide medical services and compensation for responders who were exposed to toxins while working at ground zero.
"The publication of this final rule marks an important step in the effort to provide needed treatment and care to 9/11 responders and survivors through the WTC Health Program," John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said in a statement.
Applicants will have to undergo a certification process with the government in order to determine whether their medical condition is linked to the exposure they received at Ground Zero.
More than a dozen types of cancer, including skin, breast, stomach and colon cancer, are potentially covered under the compensation fund, which had already covered conditions like asthma, post-traumatic stress disorder and a range of lung and airway disorders.
Sheila Birnbaum, special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, released a statement Monday explaining that anyone diagnosed with one of the cancers listed in the final rule can apply for compensation, but will have to meet certain criteria like proving a "physical presence at one of the crash sites between September 11, 2001 and May 30, 2002."
Despite more potential victims qualifying as a result of the government's decision, the size of the compensation fund is not expected to increase, Fox news reported.
Congress has allocated a fixed amount of $2.775 billion for victims, of which $875 million can be distributed in the first five years of the program.
According to 2010 statistics from the New York State Department of Health, nearly 350 first responders from the 9/11 terrorist attacks had died of cancer at the time.
"The publication of this final rule marks an important step in the effort to provide needed treatment and care to 9/11 responders and survivors through the WTC Health Program," said Dr. John Howard, administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program.
The move reverses an announcement made in July 2011, when Howard stated that cancer treatments would not be covered by the compensation fund.
At the time, Howard said there was inadequate "published scientific and medical findings" to link September 11 exposures to cancer.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg welcomed the decision Monday.
"As part of our ongoing commitment to our first responders, New York City led the way in ensuring that the Zadroga Act included reviews of the medical evidence so that all those ill from exposure to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks receive the care they need, Bloomberg said.
"We have urged from the very beginning that the decision whether or not to include cancer be based on science; Dr. Howard's decision, made after thorough consideration of the latest available research and data, will continue to ensure that those who have become ill due to the heinous attacks on 9/11 will get the medical care they need and deserve," the mayor added.