There were a unique group of people that emerged during 9/11. They were the ones who, instead of running away from the attacks, were running towards it. They were the helpers. They were the ones working for days trying to dig victims out of the debris. They were the ones who worked at ground zero trying to help emergency response units. They were the ones setting up missing persons areas.
As many of you know, I worked at the American Red Cross during September 11, 2001. An hour after the first terrorist attacks, my chapter became the headquarters for dealing with aftermath. I, along with many of my colleagues requested temporary transfers to ground zero to help volunteer in any way we could. Although my transfer was not approved, my best friend, Sue along with a few others in my chapter were. Their altruistic natures led them into unchartered territory. They had no idea what they were going to see or what the working conditions would be.
When they arrived in New York, the dust cloud had not yet settled and a fire was still smoldering deep in the rubble. When asked about breathing in the dust, they were advised that it was not dangerous and masks were not required (something she would later regret). Tents were set up near ground zero in order to better serve the emergency personnel and organizations. Sue spent two weeks volunteering in New York where she worked 10 hour days assisting the first responders and ate many of her meals near the site.
More Than 2,900 People Who Worked or Lived Near the World Trade Center on 9/11 Have Been Diagnosed With Cancer
Five years after she came back from volunteering in New York, she began having immense pain in her hips and legs. She was lethargic and a little frightened at what the doctors would say. Further testing indicated that she had a rare form of blood cancer called multiple myeloma, which multiplies the body’s plasma cells to dangerous levels. She is also prone to suffering debilitating fractures and other bone disorders, severe side effects of certain treatments, and all of this causing a significant impact in the cost of health care.
What many of the first responders, volunteers and residents who lived near the attacks did not know is that they would be exposed to a toxic dust cloud that would cause many to have long term health issues including asthma, cancer, leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Notably, more than 2,900 people who worked or lived near the World Trade Center on 9/11 have been diagnosed with cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Further, hundreds of firefighters and other ground zero workers have died of cancer after the attack on the World Trade Center, according to New York state health officials.
Those responders who were present at the World Trade Center and Twin Tower sites, including my friend, Sue were heavily exposed to toxic dust containing cancer-causing agents such as asbestos and benzene, a component of jet fuel that caused uncontrollable fires when planes hit the Twin Towers. These fires burned for three months and emitted high volumes of particulates and gases that were inhaled by responders, survivors and people who lived in the surrounding area. Several of these known chemicals and carcinogens have been linked to a heightened risk of multiple myeloma.
In fact, due to increased amounts of 9/11 first responders being diagnosed with cancer and other health issues, many studies were published suggesting a link between the increased gastro-esophageal cancers and blood cancers such as multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- A 2009 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggesting a link between multiple myeloma and the exposure to the toxic dust at ground zero.
- A study where researchers found firefighters who worked at ground zero were 19% more likely to develop cancer than firefighters who did not. According to the 2011 study, published in The Lancet medical journal, the increase occurred during the first seven years after 9/11.
- In 2012, a study of 56,000 people, including those who lived or worked near the trade center and rescue-and-recovery workers, found a 14 percent increase in all cancers, and higher rates of multiple myeloma, thyroid and prostate cancers.
- Dr. Philip J Landrigan, head of a Sept 11th treatment, monitoring, and research program at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, said in the NY Times that “we know full well that the responders were exposed to a whole soup of carcinogens.”
Although the correlation and studies justified the claims, officials were hesitant to compensate any medical bills through the WTC Health Program. The U.S. government is going as far as to deny claims that toxic exposure from 9/11 attacks has any correlation to the increased rates of cancer appearing in the men and women who were directly exposed to the toxic environment surrounding the fallen towers in the aftermath of the tragedy. Dr. John Howard, administrator of the WTC Health Program, had said in 2012 that cancer treatments would not be covered by the compensation fund. At the time, he said there was inadequate “published scientific and medical findings” to link 9/11 exposures to cancer.
While the government promised to provide $4.3 billion in medical coverage to first responders, it continues to drag its feet thirteen years after the fact! It is deeply disconcerting to me that the government of the United States of America has failed to care for the men and women of this country who sacrificed their health to care for victims of 9/11. Perhaps, the government does not believe in taking care of their own.
After a successful experimental stem cell procedure was performed in 2013, Sue is currently in remission. She is living life to its fullest and counts her blessings every day. She is well aware that the chances of her cancer returning are likely, but the fighter within her says that, “she will make cancer her bitch.”
September 11, 2001 was the day our world as we once knew it changed. It is also a day when we saw unwavering acts of bravery to help our fellow man. These individuals answered a call to service that we can never forget. Some lost their lives and some compromised their health in order to help others.
My sincere thanks to all of you who were there, who did what had to be done, who put your life on the line to help your fellow man.
To further support our 9/11 responders living with health issues caused by their exposure to toxic dust, please consider donating to: