Almost 10,000 first responders and people in the areas surrounding the World Trade Center at the time of the 9/11 attacks have been diagnosed with cancer, and more than 2,000 people have already died because of illnesses attributed to toxic exposure from 9/11.
Experts, including World Trade Center Health Program Clinical Center of Excellence at Mount Sinai Medical Director Dr. Michael Crane. “We’re nervous,” he said in an interview with USA Today. According to Dr. Crane, the rate of certain types of cancers among first responders, who are now about 55 years old on average, is approximately 30 percent higher than the rate among the general population. USA Today also broke down some numbers that demonstrate the dangers responders and those in the area of the attacks face today:
- One member of the FBI died on 9/11 – since then, 15 current and former members of the FBI have died from 9/11-related diseases contracted during the cleanup and investigation following the attacks.
- 23 members of the New York City Police Department died on 9/11 – 23 current and former members of the NYPD died in 2017 from 9/11-related diseases.
- 343 members of the Fire Department of New York died on 9/11 – in the following 17 years, almost 180 current and former members of the FDNY died from 9/11-related diseases.
Medical specialists can usually determine the risks workers face in most workplace settings based on expected chemical exposure, but that’s not the case for the 90,000 or so people who reported exposure to toxic chemicals following the 9/11 attacks. Some of the chemicals people reported exposure to include pulverized concrete, burning electronics, burning jet fuel, asbestos, and more.
“9/11 was the opposite,” Dr. Crane said in an interview this past August. “Steel melting, every time [rescue and recovery workers] moved something, a puff of smoke. They didn’t know what they were dealing with, didn’t have the sort of adequate equipment to protect themselves… No one has ever codified or captured all the stuff that was released from that pile. It’s an unknown exposure… I worry about everything. I literally worry about everything.”
The progression of diseases medical professionals have seen among first responders has followed a somewhat expected path. People first started reporting things like asthma and other types of irritative diseases. Dr. Crane stated that it can take decades for cancers caused by environmental exposure to develop – 17 years out from the attacks, the number of reported cases fits that expectation.
"I don't think we have reached 15 percent of the cancer we're going to see," said Dr. Ray Basri, an internist and Middletown, New York, volunteer firefighter who is also a professor of medicine at New York Medical College in Valhalla. "I really do think we're in the very early stages."
New information uncovered by recent medical studies are poised to play a huge role in shaping future treatment for those exposed to toxic chemicals on 9/11, and health centers like the one Dr. Crane runs at Mount Sinai can offer additional and more frequent screenings for cancers now that they have a better understanding of what to look out for.