It has been nearly 15 years since the 9/11 attacks, and first responders and residents continue to face chronic health problems related to toxic dust exposure. Officially, the disaster area extends from the World Trade Center site to the western edges of Brooklyn, covers lower Manhattan and reaches the tip of Governor’s Island. When the towers fell, they released a million pounds of alkaline toxic dust. Responders are left with both mental and physical ailments to this day.
The University of Chicago Magazine reports that nearly all first responders and other people who helped in the recovery efforts suffered a severe, hacking, persistent cough in the aftermath. Today they have health issues such as respiratory disease, sinus problems, sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux disease and more complicated conditions. According to the WTC Health Program, more than 32,000 people in the program have been diagnosed with respiratory and digestive issues, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The massive amounts of dust released with the collapse of the twin towers contained a complex mix of hazardous chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic. In testifying on behalf of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, Dr. Jacqueline Moline told a congressional subcommittee in 2009, “They were exposed to a complex and unprecedented mixture of toxic chemicals, including dust, glass shards, and carcinogens like benzene, asbestos, and dioxin,”
Researchers are also finding that responders have higher rates of certain cancers, such as multiple myeloma, leukemia, lymphoma, prostate and thyroid. According to the World Trade Center Health Program, more than 5,400 cases of cancer have been associated with the 9/11 attacks as of June 30, 2016. This is a significant increase from the 1,822 cases reported in January 2014. Dr. Michael Crane, medical director of the WTC Health Program at Mount Sinai Hospital, told the New York Post “It’s been steady for at least the last year and a half – we’re seeing new people here being certified for cancer 10 to 15 times week. That’s every week,”
Responders also suffer from mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Earlier this year, a study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found comorbidity of PTSD, depression and anxiety in police officers who responded to 9/11. The WTC Health Program has diagnosed more than 12,000 people with 9/11-related mental health issues.
The Zadroga Act provides medical treatment and compensation to responders and survivors injured due to 9/11. It first passed in 2010, establishing the World Trade Center Health Program and the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. The deadline for authorization passed in 2015, and was renewed to 2090 at the end of last year. The WTC Health Program is how responders and survivors receive medical treatment and monitoring for their injuries. The VCF provides compensation to victims and their families.