Mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure is the latest cancer that is connected directly to the rescue, recovery, and clean up after the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City in 2001. Eighteen years after the Twin Towers came down in a cloud of asbestos-laced and toxic dust, the first death from asbestos cancer has been recorded.
According to media reports, Nick Ursta, 52, from southwestern Pennsylvania, died recently after being diagnosed with mesothelioma a year ago. Ursta was a construction worker and fireman who was part of the White Oak EMS team that went to New York City on September 12, 2001, to help with cleanup and recovery efforts.
His wife, Margaret Ursta, his wife, who also helped at ground zero, told a Pittsburgh paper that doctors treating him at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said that his death was caused by asbestos exposure during the 9/11 cleanup and recovery effort.
Dr. Craig Stevens told the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette that ‘he was not surprised at all’ that Ursta passed away from mesothelioma after being exposed to high levels of asbestos at ground zero. Stevens also said that he expects there will be more mesothelioma cases in the future from 9/11 cleanup and recovery crews. (Post-gazette.com)
More Mesothelioma Deaths in the Future?
Ursta’s death from asbestos exposure could be a signal of things to come. Mesothelioma is usually caused by the inhalation or ingestion of tiny microscopic fibers, which were in the toxic cloud unleashed by the collapse and burning of the World Trade Center. (Citylab.com).
The World Trade Center Registry states that 410,000 people were exposed to the toxic mineral and many dangerous chemicals in the air that included diesel oils, cement dust, lead, mercury, metals, particulates, and other carcinogens.
Many first responders, such as police and firefighters, recovery and cleanup personnel, and volunteers, were exposed to asbestos and other dangerous substances after the 9/11 attack. The registry also included what are called survivors, which are people who worked, lived, or went to school in the region.
There have been more than 14,000 cases of various cancers reported from both responders and survivors to the World Trade Center Health Program, which is monitoring all illnesses related to the terrorist attack. The program covers more than 60 cancers, including mesothelioma, that can be connected to toxic substances that lingered in the region for months after 9/11.
The top 10 cancers that have been reported by the World Trade Center Program are:
- Nonmelanoma of the skin
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Melanoma of the skin
- Thyroid cancer
- Lung and bronchus cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Carcinoma in situ (a form of skin cancer)
At least 1,000 people who were diagnosed with some form of cancer and registered with the WTC Health Program have died, but experts debate how many of the deaths were caused by 9/11.
The average age of a first responder to 9/11 was 37 at the time, registry records state. The average age of that group today is 55, which is a more common time for cancer to occur.
People who were involved in the rescue and recovery efforts are 5%-30% more likely than the overall population to develop one of the above cancers, according to several clinical studies. One study found that firefighters who were exposed to dust during and after 9/11 were 19% more likely to get cancer than those in the general population.
Until recently, few cases of mesothelioma were reported to the WTC Health Program. The few that were have been debated on whether the asbestos exposure that caused the cancer stemmed from 9/11. Mesothelioma was put on the list of diseases covered by the World Trade Center Health Program in 2012.
Nearly 400 people who were at the WTC site after the attacks have been diagnosed with asbestosis, a non-cancerous but serious lung disease.
Latency Period Can Be Decades
Mesothelioma deaths related to the 9/11 attacks are only occurring now because of the long latency period between asbestos exposure and developing cancer. It can take from 20 to 50 years from exposure to get the disease.
Mesothelioma experts, such as Dr. Raja Flores at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, believes many new mesothelioma cases will be coming that are related to 9/11.
Flores said recently that it has been 18 years since 9/11, and he thinks there will be a mesothelioma case here or there in the next few years. But once it is 25 to 30 years after 9/11, there will probably be a spike in mesothelioma cases.
The doctor was part of the recovery and rescue efforts after 9/11 and said the coming wave of mesothelioma cases was inevitable. Flores noted that if you expose people to high levels of asbestos, some of them will get mesothelioma.