Last week we reported on the death of James Zadroga, a 34-year-old homicide detective who was believed to be the first New York City police officer to die from a respiratory disease caused by exposure to dust and toxic debris during his hundreds of hours of rescue and cleanup efforts at ground zero.
Now, however, the New York Daily News is reporting that 22 other relatively young men may also have died from respiratory-related illnesses caused or accelerated by their exposure to the same toxic environment while aiding in the post-9/11 cleanup.
Like Zadroga most of the 22 men were only in their 30s and 40s. According to their families, they have died as a result of the deadly mixture of chemicals they were exposed to as they searched for survivors in the ruins of the World Trade Center or aided in the clean-up efforts in the days and weeks following the terrorist attack.
While the attack was immediately responsible for killing almost 3,000 innocent victims who were in and around the WTC, it now appears 9/11 has had, and will continue to have, far reaching effects on possibly thousands of other individuals who responded to the catastrophe that day and in the weeks that followed as part of the massive rescue, recovery, and cleanup efforts, without any regard to their own personal safety.
Many medical experts have already expressed serious concern that the first responders, rescue and recovery workers, volunteers of all kinds, and construction workers at the scene will inevitably suffer significant, if not fatal, health consequences as a result of their protracted exposure to all types of dust, debris, toxins, and other dangerous substances that polluted the WTC disaster site for several months following the collapse of the WTC buildings.
More than four years later Detective Zadroga, who devoted some 400 hours to searching for victims died of a respiratory disease that the Detectives’ Endowment Association (DEA) believes was caused by his exposure to dust and debris at the disaster site
Zadroga developed black lung disease and mercury on the brain according to Michael Palladino, president of the DEA. For a month after the collapse of the towers, Zadroga worked up to 16 hours a day on rescue and recovery efforts.
Several months after 9/11 Zadroga developed shortness of breath and other respiratory problems and, as a result, he retired on disability in 2004.
Among the additional 22 who have died are private employees, a sanitation worker, a correction officer, a utility worker, transit workers, firefighters, and police officers. Some, like Zadroga, suffered from black lung disease, while others died from cancers of the esophagus and pancreas.
David Knecht, a Lucent Technologies employee, worked for two months to re-establish communications at businesses near Ground Zero. At 35 he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died in March 2005, leaving behind two girls, now ages 3 and 4.
His wife Cathleen Knecht, 38, of Berkeley Heights, N.J said "He was a nonsmoker and a swimmer."
Knecht was one of many who have claimed to have been sickened with debilitating and potentially deadly ailments related to their presence at the WTC site. Thousands are sick and suffering from respiratory illnesses. Nearly 400 firefighters and paramedics have left the job because of career-ending illnesses that followed their work at Ground Zero.
David Worby, the attorney for approximately 5,200 Ground Zero workers says that rescue and clean-up workers were not properly protected for the dangerous job they had to perform. "This was a toxic waste site. People should have been walking around in moon suits."
He anticipates there will be many more deaths and illnesses from worker’s exposure to deadly waste at ground zero. It is estimated that as many as 40,000 people worked at the site in the months after 9/11.
Worby’s firm has filed a class-action lawsuit, which is pending in United States District Court in Manhattan. The suit alleges that government officials and construction contractors negligently exposed workers to dangerous levels of toxins at the cleanup site.
Presently, attorneys for the City of New York deny any direct medical link between exposure to debris and the respiratory illnesses and cancers. Doctors treating Ground Zero workers are also skeptical because cancers resulting from toxic exposure can take up to 15 to 20 years to develop.
They are disturbed, however, by the substantial number of young people who have died or become ill following similar exposure to the same environmental conditions.
"It’s still too early to say if WTC responders are at increased risk for cancer," said Dr. Robin Herbert, director of the World Trade Center Health Effects Treatment Program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "But we remain very concerned."
Another death involved Bob Shore, a city correction officer, who worked at the makeshift morgue at Ground Zero for at least two weeks, wearing only a paper mask. At the end of his first day handling body parts, Shore climbed into the shower fully dressed and cried for two hours.
Shore, a 53-year-old father of two died last August from pancreatic cancer. His doctor attributes his disease, which caused the once 300-pound bodybuilder to waste away to 110 pounds and to have his gallbladder, spleen and pancreas removed, to his work at ground zero.
Shore’s widow, like many families of 9/11 recovery and rescue workers, says she now faces the impossibility of paying the medical bills, as much $200,000 for all her husband’s treatments.
Nevertheless, Michelle Shore remembers her husband’s selfless contribution to the recovery efforts: "He never regretteregretted doing it," she said "He was my hero, the city’s hero."