15 Years Later, 9/11 Still Claiming Lives of First Responders and Cleanup Workers Exposed to Asbestos and Toxic Fumes

Around the country, Americans memorialized the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with moments of silence and other displays or remembrance.

Yet, for many 9/11 cleanup crew workers, bystanders, and first responders exposed to asbestos who were in lower Manhattan that day, as well as at the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA crash site, the nightmare of September 11th lingers.

A shockingly high number of first responders, bystanders, and cleanup workers suffer from health issues linked to the toxic clouds that were released when the Twin Towers collapsed.

Today, cancers, breathing and respiratory issues and digestive disorders are some of the most commonly diagnosed conditions. Yet, due to the long latency period of some cancers – like mesothelioma, lung cancer and esophageal cancers – those figures are expected to continue to grow over coming decades.

The Health Impacts of the Twin Towers Collapse

Overwhelmingly, the highest percentage of claims from the Victim’s Fund are for heroes and victims facing cancer diagnoses. In fact, according to a recent CBS News report, 5,000 cancer cases have been linked to the toxic dust containing asbestos, lead and other chemicals that people were exposed to when the Twin Towers fell and during Ground Zero cleanup.

One study found that 9/11 firefighters have a 19 percent greater risk of developing cancer than other firefighters. Plus, a recent study from Mount Sinai – the New York-based cancer hospital – found strong evidence that kidney damage may have been a result of breathing in the toxic fumes.

Sal Turturici, who was an EMT with the New York Fire Department on 9/11, is one such hero who is battling for his life.

Profiled recently by CBS News, Turturici, like many there on that day, said he was so engrossed in helping others that the possible health impacts didn’t cross his mind. Now, he’s been told that there’s not much more doctors can do.

Yet, Turturici is just one example.

Just last year, New Jersey resident Marcy Borders — who became known as “Dust Lady,” after she was photographed following the World Trade Center collapsed covered in a thick layer of dust – succumbed to cancer. She was just 42.

Unfortunately, stories like Turturici and Borders’ are unlikely to cease anytime soon. Dr. Michael Crane, a Mount Sinai doctor who oversees the hospital’s 9/11 Health Program Clinic, said they’re still seeing 10 to 15 new cancer cases each week from just first responders exposed to asbestos. Dr. Crane, who’s been in medicine for about four decades, called the trend “remarkable.”

Long-Latency A Growing Concern for 9/11 First Responders Exposed To Asbestos

Different types of cancer have varying latency periods, which is the amount of time they take to develop. Leukemia – the most commonly diagnosed 9/11-related cancer – has a latency period of just 5 months, according to the CDC, while other common cancers for 9/11 responders like thyroid, breast and kidney cancer have latency periods of 2.5 to 4 years.

Longer latency periods cancers, on the other hand, take years years to develop, and experts expect to see a sharp increase in diagnoses. Mesothelioma, for example, which is directly related to asbestos exposure, can develop over 20 to 50 years. That’s why Dr. Raja Flores of Mount Sinai Medical told CityLab said in the coming decades 9/11-related mesothelioma will likely be among the top diseases diagnosed among first responders.

In particular, Flores noted that three types of cancer – esophageal, lung cancer and mesothelioma – are likely to see huge spikes in diagnoses. Lung cancer and esophageal cancer, like mesothelioma, have long latency periods of 20+ years, as well.

In the construction of the World Trade Center, experts have estimated that 300 to 400 tons of the toxic asbestos fibers were used, and chrysotile asbestos was documented in the dust that blanketed lower Manhattan in the weeks following the attack.

When the Twin Towers collapsed, these toxic fibers were released in the plume of dust, and the sheer force of the cloud pushed them deep inside victim’s lungs. Already many are starting to face symptoms related to these long latency cancers – like acid reflux disorders, which may predate esophageal cancer.

Early mesothelioma diagnoses have already developed with two known 9/11 victims. One worker, Deborah Reeve developed a cough just 2 weeks after 9/11, before ultimately passing away in 2004 from mesothelioma.

Remembering The Heroes and Victims of 9/11

Last year, after a long battle that included demonstrations by comedian Jon Stewart, Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Through the legislation, the Victim’s Compensation Fund, which provides benefits to victims and their families, was extended for 75 years and now totals $8.1 billion.

This ensures patients of long-latency cancers will have access to compensation for another 7+ decades.

Ultimately, many first responders, cleanup workers and victims of the attacks continue to face the harsh reality of living with a debilitating disease. Although they will have compensation, they’re still fighting to stay remembered for their heroism in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

Talking with CBS News, a gaunt Turturici said it’s critical that Americans continue to remember the people who lost their lives on 9/11 and the suffering of people who have developed a 9/11-related cancer or illness.

Matthew Davis

Author

Matthew Davis has studied journalism at the University of Colorado and has covered civil litigation for a variety of publications. He joined Mesowatch in 2016 and covers asbestos litigation developments in the U.S., as well as newsworthy asbestos cases.