As the twin towers fell on the morning of September 11, 2001, a thick dust clouded the air and first responders rushed into ground zero.
The dust that filled the air was a mixture of lead, asbestos, glass fiber, and other toxic building materials that were at one time pieces of a building or a plane.
These carcinogenic particles would hang in the air for days and weeks following 9/11, and would go on to affect the health of thousands of responders and civilians.
(Courtesy of WTC911demolition and YouTube. Posted on Apr 8, 2012.)
First Responder Exposure
Responders and workers were not only exposed to toxic materials in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, but also during the cleanup and recovery efforts that continued in the subsequent months.
A week after the attacks, the head of the EPA had declared the air and water safe.
The announcement cued civilians to return to their daily routines and led to recovery workers to continue their work without safety masks and equipment.
(Christine Todd Whitman offered a heartfelt apology for air quality statement. Courtesy of New York Daily News and YouTube. Posted on Sep 10, 2016.)
Long periods of exposure led to responders inhaling debris, and at times bringing it into their cars and homes at the end of the day.
Today, more than 2,000 people have passed away from illnesses related to exposure at ground zero and 10,000 people have been diagnosed with an associated disease or cancer.
These cancers include lung cancer, mesothelioma, myeloma and throat and esophagus cancer.
Along with internal scarring and cancer, there are also responders dealing with disabilities from accidents at ground zero and burns from chemical exposure.
As firefighters and relief workers moved metal, steel, burned computer technology, and other damaged materials they were unfortunately unprotected and unknowingly burned.
(An estimated 400 tons of asbestos was used in the World Trade Center. The 9/11 terrorist attacks released the carcinogen in a dust cloud throughout New York City. Now, people who were exposed at Ground Zero are developing debilitating asbestos-related diseases. Courtesy of the The Mesothelioma Center and YouTube. Posted on Sep 11, 2018.)
Illness Associated with 9/11
Even though 9/11 occurred nearly 18 years ago, the number of cancer diagnoses due to exposure is expected to increase.
Many symptoms of the cancers and illnesses associated with inhaling asbestos, dust, and glass particles may take 15-50 years to develop in the body.
Doctors fear that around the 20th anniversary of 9/11 there will be a spike in related cancer cases.
However because the exposure can be pinpointed to a specific time period, doctors are becoming more knowledgeable about what symptoms to look out for and recognizing pre-cancerous signs.
For many of these life threatening cancers, the earlier the symptoms are recognized, the better prognosis a patient receives.
(The reading of the names of 9/11 First Responders who died from 9/11 injuries and sickness caused by the Toxic Air at Ground Zero. Courtesy Steven Spak and YouTube. Posted on Sep 15, 2018.)
Mesothelioma of the lungs or chest can be especially aggressive, with a life expectancy of only 6-16 months after diagnosis.
When caught in the first or second stage, the prognosis can be much more positive.
While the damage can’t be undone, the health of victims can be preserved through earlier screenings and thorough understandings of 9/11 related cancers.
Other survivors deal with the repercussions of crushed limbs or burns and may no longer be able to work due to their injury.
Founder of the FealGood Foundation, John Feal, lost half his foot after a piece of steel fell on his foot during cleanup efforts at ground zero.
Today he can no longer work as a demolition supervisor, but instead is a passionate advocate for first responders who are still suffering.
(Current claims could be slashed by 50 percent, future claims would get 70 percent less than what should be authorized. Courtesy of PIX11 News and YouTube. Posted on Feb 22, 2019.)
Future Support for Victims
In the past, victims have also been financially supported through government funded compensation funds that were available to 9/11 survivors.
However, funds that were previously set aside are now running low and are set to expire in the upcoming years. As of February 2019, payouts were reduced by half and thousands of claims have not been collected.
The 9/11 Victim Compensation Act was last renewed in 2015 by congress, but it will expire in 2020 if not passed again.
Lawmakers and advocates are pushing for the bill to be not only renewed, but for a permanent reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act.
The permanent reauthorization will ensure that responders who may become sick in the future won’t be left behind.
Strong supporters of the bill include former “Daily Show” host John Stewart and presidential candidate and NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
(9/11 victims advocate and former host of ‘The Daily Show’ Jon Stewart urges Congress to renew the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund before money runs out. Courtesy of Fox News and YouTube. Posted on Sep 7, 2018.)
With more support these laws can get the funding they need and support those who may deal with illness in the upcoming years.
As of 2019, the fund has paid nearly $11 billion in claims, but there are still Americans who require support from their elected officials.
Spreading information and voicing support will ensure that these heroes don’t fall between the cracks.
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