Raise awareness of environmental health issues in order to better protect our children and future generations.

11 September 2016

A Call for Better Treatment of First Responders Exposed to the Toxic Wreckage of the World Trade Center.

UPDATE 9 September 2016 :
Read Newsweek's featured article, "9/11-Related Cancer Is Surging", 7 September 2016.

Our post was written in September 2011.

This post is in commemoration of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11 2001.

Our thoughts are with all those who lost loved ones, friends and colleagues in the tragic destruction of the World Trade Center and related events which occurred 10 years ago, on 11 September 2001.

About an hour after the first plane slammed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York, a friend called me to tell me to turn on the television, that “something terrible” was happening in New York.  I was in Geneva at the time.  I recall seeing the burning North Tower and then in live time, the horrifying image of it crumbling to the ground.

Three weeks after the attack, the wreckage was still very visible in lower Manhattan.  The jagged ruins of one of the towers, rose up as a reminder of the terrible destructive act of terrorists and as a symbol of the vulnerability of America.  The gravestones in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Church were covered in gray dust.  Everywhere on the fence in front of the church, photographs were posted of the missing with messages from family members and friends.  An acrid odor of the mix of toxic chemicals and human remains hung heavy in the air.  A steady train of flatbed trucks hauled the ruins from Manhattan to landfills on Staten Island. 

It is estimated that the health of over 60,000 persons (first responders, survivors, residents of lower Manhattan) has been affected through exposure to the mix of deadly substances contained in the dust of the ruins, which included lead, asbestos, mercury.  Over the past year, some 18,000 persons have consulted doctors for health problems from exposure.  The British medical journal “The Lancet”, has just published a study suggesting that firefighters exposed to the dust and smoke of the wreckage of the World Trade Center are 19 per cent more likely to develop cancer than those who were not at the site. 

What is tragic is that cancer is not one of the illnesses covered by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act which set aside $4.3 billion to treat those suffering from health problems, mainly asthma, chronic respiratory disorder and coughs, post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of the 9/11 attack.  In July 2011, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announced that there was not enough scientific evidence linking the cancer suffered by first responders to time spent at Ground Zero.  Persons exposed to the dust and diagnosed with cancer following the attack thus do not qualify for government aid to treat their illness.  Many of these persons do not have health insurance and have endured years of financial instability due to job loss.  Some of them have lost their homes because of medical bills.  The wife of one responder who died from cancer commented that the decision to exclude cancer patients “is nothing short of an indignity… It’s a disgrace to my husband, who gave of himself and went through so much inhumane suffering and it’s a disgrace for the people who are going through what we went through.”

Scientists say that the gases from the combination of building materials – asbestos burning at more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit – was and is unprecedented.  Inhalation exposure to the complex mix of toxic substances is difficult to understand.  One scientist commented that  most of the dust particles from Ground Zero contained about 100 to 250 different materials.  These particles had the ability to go deep into the lungs.  An alarming number of first responders were not wearing proper respirators.  In the first six months following the attack, 8 per cent of the 1,636 firefighters present when the towers collapsed had been diagnosed with a persistent cough, defined as chronic rhino-sinusitis, asthma and/or bronchitis.  A Mount Sinai Medical Center study found that by 2006, 79 per cent of the 9,500 Ground Zero workers – construction workers, transit workers, volunteers, firefighters, law enforcement officials and Emergency Medical Technicians - had suffered lung dysfunction or other abnormalities.

A 34-year-old police officer, diagnosed in 2005 with a cancer that is extremely rare in someone so young, worked for 11 days at the World Trade Center site and then 63 days at a Staten Island landfill.  “I’ve met so many people who were police officers at the same time who have these cancers, and we’re all about the same age.” …Cancer treatment being covered by the program “would have brought some closure. … It feels like it’s never going to end,” he said.  As a BBC report commented, the terrorists continue to triumph, ten years after the event, through the suffering and sickness created in the aftermath of the attack. 

by Meris Michaels

- Refer to this comprehensive article written by Bob Considine for the Newark Star-Ledger, 5 September 2011:  “For 9/11 responders,inadequate medical assistance is an insult to heroism.”

- View this excellent documentary, "Dust to Dust, the Health Effects of 9/11", produced in 2011.

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