Yesterday, our nation remembered the victims and heroes of 9/11 through ceremonies, television specials, and the opening of the 9/11 memorial plaza. While there was much to be said about acts of extreme heroism and loved ones lost on that dreadful day, what was rarely discussed yesterday as well as over the past 10 years is the incidence of long-term illness among rescue workers, survivors, and Ground Zero employees.
When the Twin Towers fell, New York City was enveloped by a cloud of smoke. In the 5 hours following the collapse of each tower, airborne asbestos was present at levels of 50 f/mL, which is 93,000 times higher than typical levels. Studies have shown that at least 70,000 people now have long-term health problems after exposure to dust in the air at Ground Zero. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there:
- 19% of Ground Zero workers are likely to develop asbestos cancer due to exposure to asbestos.
- 75 recovery workers have already been diagnosed with blood cancer
- 263 firefighters have already developed cancer
- 100% of Ground Zero rescue workers now have impaired lung function (the average is 10% after a rescue)
- 66% of Manhattan adults gained new or increased sinus problems in the 12 months following 9/11
- On average, breathing Ground Zero air resulted in a loss of 12 years worth of lung function
The government, aware of the major health risks caused by 9/11, recently enacted the Zadroga Bill, which provides medical coverage for rescue workers and others that may have contracted illness due to the toxins in the air. While this bill is a step in the right direction, it does not cover cancer that may have been caused due to the high levels of asbestos in the air. This is creating a large amount of controversy, as the incidence of cancer grows and 9/11 heroes are not properly cared for.
Many doctors also fear that Mesothelioma may be the largest health risk of 9/11 air exposure. Mesothelioma takes anywhere from 10 to 40 years to develop. This makes it hard to associate this form of cancer to one particular incident. That said, doctors are predicting that the Mesothelioma risk of someone exposed to the 9/11 dust cloud is 8 times higher than a worker exposed the the “safe” level of asbestos (.1 fiber/cm3).
Currently, there are many working hard to expand the Zadroga bill to ensure it covers asbestos Mesothelioma cancer in particular. The bill currently covers aerodigestive disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, and post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
It is highly important to remember the heroes and victims that were lost on September 11, 2001. It is also important to acknowledge a harsh reality: 10 years later, 9/11 is still taking victims. Many deserve to be honored for the sacrifices they made 10 years ago and today’s victims deserve equal reverence. If you are looking for a way to help, consider donating to the FealGood Foundation, which was established to help with the health costs for survivors of 9/11. Also consider writing to your senators and asking for further expansion of the Zadroga bill.