For the last decade, September 11th has been a day of somber reflection and profound grief as we honor and remember the victims of 9/11. The world stood still as we watched the 110-story World Trade Center towers collapse – all in real time. Nearly 3,000 people were killed from the terrorist’s attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
Toxic chemicals permeated the lungs of thousands of residents, workers, and first responders who were exposed on and after September 11, 2001. Pulverized cement and known carcinogens such as asbestos, benzene, PCB, dioxin, and jet fuel blanketed Lower Manhattan during the rescue and clean-up.
A 2011 Lancet study confirmed that a disproportionate number of 9/11 emergency service workers and residents have died of cancer. Research showed that New York City Firefighters working at the site of the terrorist attacks contracted 10% more cancers than the general public and 19% more cancers than firefighters who did not work at the site. The New York City Fire Department has etched nearly 65 firefighter names on a wall honoring the fallen heroes who died of illnesses related to Ground Zero rescue and recovery work.
Reuters reported, “Some estimates put the overall death toll from 9/11-related illness at more than 1,000. At least 20,000 Ground Zero workers are being treated across the country and 40,000 are being monitored by World Trade Centre Health Program.” Presently, there is no cure for mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer, caused by asbestos which claims 10,000 lives every year.
After an exhaustive 11-year battle, Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), issued a proposed rule on Monday to expand the list of illnesses covered under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to include approximately 50 cancers. New York City Police Detective, James Zadroga, died from respiratory failure after working at Ground Zero when he was just 34 years old.
Of the estimated 400,000 people believed to have been heavily exposed to toxins from the 9/11 disaster, the Centers for Disease Control reported, “A total of 62.4% of survivors of collapsed or damaged buildings were caught in the dust and debris cloud that resulted from the collapse of the WTC towers, and 63.8% experienced three or more potentially psychologically traumatizing events.”
As families huddle together while the names of workers, residents, and responders are somberly read, we are reminded of the incalculable collateral damage of environmental and occupational 9/11 toxic exposures.