The collapse of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001 claimed the lives of 2,763, including 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 police officers and 37 Port Authority officers. But the carnage was long from over when the toxic dust had settled and been cleaned up.
Today, people who were around the World Trade Center buildings that day and the days that followed, are sick and dying, including many first responders.
According to the World Trade Center Health program, almost 10,000 people have gotten cancer from the dust and smoke on 9/11 and afterward until the area was cleaned up.
New York attorney Greg Cannata represents World Trade Center victims, and said he gets 10 clients a month who have been stricken with cancer that is linked to 9/11.
Cannata has been representing 9/11 victims from the beginning, including first responders, construction workers, office workers, anyone who was in the area on that day and the days following before the dust was removed.
Cannata has been involved with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund during the various stages, including the beginning.
“There was the original Victim Compensation Fund for people who were killed or severely injured,” he said, “and to a lesser extent, some of the rescuers and recovery people who had suffered respiratory illnesses initially — and these were like firemen, who were digging through the rubble that first week without respirators or masks.”
Those first responders soon came down with what was referred to as “World Trade Center cough.” Since then, thousands have become sick from the toxic dust that led to ailments, including many forms of cancer, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, interstitial lung disease, asbestosis, chronic sinusitis, chronic rhinitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease and sleep apnea.
After the initial fund for those who died or were injured when the towers came down came federal litigation for people who got sick a bit later on — firefighters, police, construction workers, volunteers who worked digging through the rubble and cutting it up during the cleanup.
It also affected those in nearby office buildings that were completely contaminated with dust. “When the buildings collapsed, there was a tremendous outward force that broke many of the windows and fronts of buildings and the debris poured into these buildings,” Cannata said. “The buildings’ ventilation systems were on and the dust was circulated throughout the buildings.”
About a year or two after the fact, the coughs were getting more serious and people, particularly firefighters, were developing cancer, mostly blood cancers like lymphoma and leukemia. A few years after that, other cancers began to develop, including respiratory and digestive cancers, cancers of the lungs, throat, trachea, mouth, sinuses, colon, thyroid, breast and skin cancers.
A report in the New York Post recently said that at least 15 men who were in or around ground zero on 9/11 have been diagnosed with breast cancer, which is extremely rare in men.
The Victim Compensation Fund was reauthorized in 2011 for anyone who was injured as a result of 9/11. Cannata has a thousand of those cases. He said that all told, there are about 25,000 people registered with the Victim Compensation Fund.
“A lot of people have a miserable life, they’re sick, with cancer, heart disease. A lot of them are dying.”
An article in the British medical journal, The Lancet, said the U.S. government agencies that initially sampled the dust and rubble from ground zero “made an early fundamental mistake.” It says they used off-the-shelf equipment for fine-particle monitoring, which became clogged and screened out the larger, toxic particles.
Michael Gochfeld, of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute at Rutgers University, collected dust samples from ground zero four days after 9/11. “We were concerned with the sluggishness of the sampling and the prevailing sense that ‘dust is dust,’” he told The Lancet. “We felt that the EPA did not take the dust seriously enough.”
Gochfeld said the EPA relied on a “sluggish sampling procedure to bring in outside industrial hygiene and safety people,” and when electricity was out, did not have a backup procedure or equipment. “It would be a reasonable question to ask whether we are prepared for another attack,” he said.
The U.S. Geological Survey tested the debris right after 9/11 and found it to be largely wallboard and cement and glass and highly alkaline. It was harmless, they said, as a dry powder but a problem when swallowed as it reacts with membranes in the respiratory and digestive systems.
“People down there [ground zero] got the word that it’s not that dangerous so people were not wearing respirators,” Cannata said. “If they were wearing anything, they were wearing dust masks, which were totally ineffective. And they were breathing in that alkaline dust with synthetic vitreous fibers and scratching their respiratory tracts.”
Cannata said the area should have been sealed off until officials learned the dangers. “You have a 46-year-old fireman who dies and leaves his family behind. It’s a terrible tragedy just because they didn’t check to see what they were dealing with.”