On the 15th anniversary of the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, a startling new number was released: more than 1,000 first responders had died due to illnesses related to the ash and debris from the attack – and some 37,000 were sick at the time. Experts predicted that within five years from that 2016 milestone, more would have died from their illnesses than were killed at Ground Zero.
We are three years removed from that date, and the response from Congress has been woefully inadequate, as evidenced by the recent controversy in Congress sparked by Jon Stewart on behalf of 9/11 first responders. But even the response garnered by Stewart may not be enough for the tens of thousands of victims who could come forward in the next few years.
“Within the next five years we will be at the point where more people have died from World Trade Center-related illnesses than died from the immediate impact of the attacks,” said Dr. Jim Melius, a doctor at the New York State Laborers Union and health advisor to the Obama White House.
The attacks killed 2,977 people with 2,753 dying at the World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan. The debris of those towers contained asbestos, lead, glass, poisonous chemicals, heavy metal toxins, oil, and jet fuel. The resulting dust was a menagerie of toxicity that coated throats, mouths, and lungs. Resulting diseases have included cancers, lung disease, digestive disorders, and even cognitive impairment on par with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The federal World Trade Center Health Program has 75,000 registered members with 87 percent of those who worked on rescue and recovery efforts on the ground that day. New York City residents and workers make up the rest of the list. In 2016, the number of registered people on the list who died of related cancers was 1,140. By 2017, that number was more than 2,000. The rate of cancers among first responders to the attacks is up to 30 percent higher than in the general population.
As of Sept. 2018, the number of dead from related illnesses was due to outpace those killed in the attack by the end of 2020 – and the rate of new cancer diagnoses in 9/11 first responders continues to grow.