This year we recognized the 18th anniversary of the national tragedy that occurred on September 11th, 2001. Most Americans remember where they were when they heard the news or turned on their television set to watch the coverage. For those first responders and police officers who were on call that day, they remember getting a call and immediately taking heroic action.
As months and years passed, American citizens began to heal but vowed to never forget the 2,996 people that were lost that day. However, for first responders, law enforcement and civilians in the area, it would be the beginning of a long fight for their health. Since 2001, around 2,000 deaths have been connected back to exposure on September 11th and in the weeks that followed at ground zero.
Why are Responders at risk?
When the attacks occurred, clouds of toxic dust were formed in the air. There was an estimated mix of 10 million tons of burning plastic, glass, lead, asbestos, concrete, and other building materials. There were also 91,000 liters of jet fuel that added to the flames, creating a terrible and destructive combination of gases and toxic material. So many people were exposed the day the towers fell, and more were exposed to these dangers during the accompanying months of clean-up.
At the time, the administrator of the EPA, Christine Whitman, stated that the air in New York City was safe to breathe, and essentially gave the green light for people to return to their lives and for responders to move forward with the recovery efforts at ground zero. Time has shown how inaccurate and harmful that assertion was. Thousands of workers and civilians would inhale and ingest toxic materials in the aftermath of 9/11.
What are the common health issues?
Around 76,000 responders are currently registered with the 9/11 health fund associated with Mount Sinai Medical Center, which supports victims with WTC related health conditions. These conditions range from chronic respiratory diseases, skin burns, mental health conditions, and more than 60 types of cancer. As time goes on, there may be unfortunately more diseases found to be connected to exposure at the site.
Asbestos is a well-documented carcinogen that was strewn into the air the day of the terrorist attacks, and exposure to asbestos can lead to a deadly cancer of the lungs, abdomen, or heart called mesothelioma. This cancer can often arise 10-50 years after initial exposure, and doctors believe there might be a spike in the disease as the years go on. There is also a new study analyzing the link between cardiovascular diseases and 9/11 exposure. The study found higher rates of cardiovascular disease in New York City firefighters who were in contact with the World Trade Center.
The continued research into the risks and health complications associated with exposure at ground zero will help to identify cancer and disease earlier in those who are at a higher risk. These studies also help to identify what health issues should be covered and supported under the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). Currently, cardiovascular diseases are not covered under the VCF, but it could be considered along with other diseases that have been identified as linked to the attacks.
How can victims and their families get support?
In July, Congress passed the extension of the Victim Compensation Fund that was set to expire in 2020. The extension of the bill was made through 2090 to ensure that anyone who is currently dealing, or could develop, an injury in the future can file for compensation. Cancer rates are expected to keep rising, so providing people with the resources that they need into the future will be crucial for victims and their families.
Responders and civilians that were on the ground during the attacks, or on the search and cleanup crews should make sure they are going to the doctor regularly and having conversations with their physicians about their history to monitor any oncoming symptoms. The earlier symptoms are detected in debilitating and deadly cancers, the better the prognosis often is. Victims and their families can look into filing a claim by visiting https://www.vcf.gov/.
- “10 years later: What was in the air at ground zero? – CBS News.” 8 Sep. 2011, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/10-years-later-what-was-in-the-air-at-ground-zero/. Accessed 13 Sep. 2019.
- “Covered Conditions – WTC Health Program – CDC.” 11 Jun. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/wtc/conditions.html. Accessed 13 Sep. 2019.
- “Malignant Mesothelioma | Causes, Symptoms, Prognosis.” https://www.mesotheliomadiagnosis.com/mesothelioma/. Accessed 13 Sep. 2019.
- “Long-term Cardiovascular Disease Risk Among Firefighters ….” 6 Sep. 2019, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2749446. Accessed 13 Sep. 2019.
- “September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.” https://www.vcf.gov/. Accessed 13 Sep. 2019.
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