Many first responders are suffering from inhaling the toxic fumes in the wake of the World Trade Center terrorist attack. This year these people are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. The pandemic has already claimed more than 193,000 American lives that is more than 60 times the number of people that died in 9/11. Every few days the death toll from this virus in the U.S. equals the number of people who died in the twin towers.
The devastating environmental impact of 9/11 continues to take a toll 19 years later. The felling of the twin towers in Manhattan killed 2,606 people but tens of thousands of others have gotten sick from their exposure to the toxins from this tragic event and many have succumbed to these illnesses.
The 90,000 first responders charged with cleaning up the carnage, along with others who spent time on or near the 9/11 site continue to suffer from serious health effects almost two decades later. Between 410,000 and 525,000 people were exposed to the toxic dust during the rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts. The plume contained 2,500 contaminants as well as 400 tons of pulverized asbestos and other hazardous material. A breakdown of this dust indicates that it consisted of 50% nonfibrous construction materials, 40% glass and other fibers, 9.2% cellulose from disintegrated paper, 0.8% asbestos as well as detectable amounts of lead and mercury. There were also unprecedented levels of dioxin and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from the fires which burned for three months. Many of the dispersed substances (asbestos, crystalline silica, lead, cadmium, PAHs) are carcinogenic. Other substances present are known to trigger kidney, heart, liver and nervous system deterioration. According to reports around 20 percent of the people who were exposed to toxic contaminants are suffering from a range of health problems. More than 50 cancers have been linked to 9/11 as well as a range of respiratory disorders. Others are suffering from stress-related disorders, and depression.
The health effects were not limited to Manhattan, toxic environmental exposures were also reported at the “Fresh Kills” landfill in Staten Island where trade center debris was moved, and at the city morgue.
When the Twin Towers were were brought down they not only killed people and destroyed property, they created an environmental nightmare. According to air pollution expert and University of California Davis Professor Emeritus Thomas Cahill, the dust from the collapsed towers was “wildly toxic”.
In 2006, David Worby, an attorney representing more than 5,000 sick plaintiffs suing those
who supervised the cleanup, said 21 of his clients had already died of September 11-related diseases since mid-2004. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Worby said. “Many, many more people are going to die from the aftermath of the toxicity.”
In 2012 CNN reported that many of those who became sick due to exposure to the 9/11 were having trouble keeping up with the costs of their illnesses.
One such individual is New York City Police Detective Ernie Vallebuona who spent six months at the site. Three years later, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He underwent extensive treatment and while he is currently in remission, he had to spend his retirement savings to pay for medical bills not covered by insurance.
“People are terribly sick. People can’t support their families. People are having trouble getting by,” said Noah Kushlefsky, an attorney who represents Vallebuona and 3,800 other first responders. “I have clients who have been evicted from homes. I have clients who can’t pay their rent, their phones have been shut off, and these people are in desperate need of some assistance so that
they can live their lives,” he said.
An April 2006 autopsy report of a retired New York City detective James Zadroga, drew a clear connection to 9/11. “It is felt with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the cause of death in this case was directly related to the 9/11 incident,” stated the report from the medical examiner’s office in Ocean County, N.J. This was the first official link made by a medical expert between the hazardous air at ground zero after the trade center collapse and the death of someone who worked in the rescue effort.
In January 2011, President Barack Obama signed the Zadroga Act which launched the World Trade Center Health Program. This program provides money for medical care and $2.775 billion dollars to compensate people for issues related to their illnesses. Cancer was initially rejected for coverage under the Act, however, on Monday, September 10, 2012, federal health authorities outlined 58 types of cancer that now will be covered. The program was renewed in 2015 and it will be in place until 2090.
As of June 2017, Business Insider reported that almost 80,000 people (residents and responders) are registered through the program. The program’s enrollment has steadily been rising since it opened, with a few hundred more responders and survivors joining each month.
After almost two decades, researchers have amassed a large and growing body of evidence linking 9/11 to a wide ranges of diseases.