When the two soaring Twin Towers of the World Trade Center came tumbling down on Sept. 11, 2001, the air of lower Manhattan was thick with dust. Fires burned in the area for almost three months after the attacks, and more than 1.8 million tons of debris would eventually be hauled away from the site.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks, but the lingering effects suffered by those who rushed into the towers in an effort to save lives as well as those who spent months clearing rubble from the site have continued.
The recent death of a 9/11 responder from mesothelioma may be just the first of many cases of heroes who rushed to the site after the attacks whose bodies were exposed to harmful, potentially toxic materials, leading them to develop cancer years after the fact.
What Was in 9/11 Debris?
When the towers came down, a slurry of crushed materials from inside the building was released into the air over Manhattan. This included materials not normally harmful but very dangerous if inhaled; it also included potentially toxic materials, such as asbestos.
A World Trade Center asbestos analysis conducted within a week of the attacks found that the settled dust was 0.8% asbestos (New York Times), which by virtue of sheer volume equates to thousands of tons of this dangerous material being dispersed and lingering in the air.
About a week after the attacks, 1 in 4 air samples taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were shown to have dangerously high levels of asbestos, though that estimate may be low, according to some who say the urgency to reopen the stock market could have influenced the EPA’s public statements (Scientific American).
9/11 Debris Health Effects
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, about 10,000 first responders and others who were on the scene have been diagnosed with a range of health problems, including multiple types of cancer, as well as respiratory illnesses and mental health challenges.
Studies have linked presence at Ground Zero (World Trade Center asbestos) to higher rates of the following health conditions:
- Mesothelioma (cancer)
- Multiple myeloma (cancer)
- Prostate cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Leukemia (cancer)
- Breast cancer
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Respiratory illness
- Digestive illness
An analysis by Mount Sinai Hospital researchers indicated that the 9/11-related death toll for people who were at the site of the attack in the minutes, days and hours after will soon exceed the number of those killed in the terrorist strike. Almost 10,000 people have been diagnosed with cancer related to their presence at Ground Zero, and upwards of 2,000 deaths have occurred (Mount Sinai Hospital).
Late in 2019, a Pennsylvania man who assisted in the cleanup of the site died from mesothelioma, and his mesothelioma doctors believe his presence at the World Trade Center asbestos site was the cause of his illness and death. Most mesothelioma cases are caused by exposure to asbestos.
The effort to rescue people before and after the towers collapsed was followed by a monthslong cleanup process that involved hundreds of volunteers from around the world. Those who responded included firefighters, police officers, construction workers, telecommunications workers, and others.
9/11 Responder Settlements & Compensation
The federal government has established a fund that provides medical monitoring and treatment for those who were present at the site of Ground Zero in New York, first responders and volunteers who aided in the recovery at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania and individuals who lived, worked or attended school in the area of the Twin Towers.
But in addition to providing medical treatment for people who risked their lives to help others on that day as well as in the months afterward, the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) has been established to provide financial compensation to individuals or family members of people who were sickened, injured or killed in the response to the attacks or the cleanup effort that followed.
The fund has been reauthorized twice, and in 2019, federal legislation extended it indefinitely, allowing people to continue applying for mesothelioma compensation. The most recent updates to the fund structure set several parameters for determining compensation amounts:
- Non-economic loss from cancer is capped at $250,000
- Non-economic loss from something other than cancer is capped at $90,000
- Allows administrators to prioritize claims for those suffering from debilitating physical conditions
Before the 2019 legislation to extend and bolster the fund’s coffers, about $5 billion of the $7.3 billion provided initially had been paid out with about 19,000 unpaid claims awaiting decisions (NPR).
9/11, Asbestos & Mesothelioma
The World Trade Center Health Program lists mesothelioma along with several other types of cancers in its list of covered conditions, and it’s likely the number of mesothelioma deaths related to 9/11 will increase.
Knowing as we do that a small but significant proportion of the settled dust from the World Trade Center site contained asbestos, the primary cause of mesothelioma, combined with the often extended time frame involved in the development of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses, chances are very good that 9/11 responders may only now begin to notice mesothelioma symptoms.
According to the Mount Sinai Hospital analysis, the average age of 9/11 first responder today is about 55 years old, and the average age of diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma is 72. Other asbestos-related illnesses that could impact 9/11 first responders and cleanup volunteers include asbestosis and lung cancer.
Nick Ursta, the Pennsylvania volunteer firefighter who died in 2019 from mesothelioma, was among the hundreds of volunteers from around the country who hurried to New York City in the aftermath of the attacks to offer what help they could. Ursta spent a week assisting at Ground Zero, and family and friends believe exposure to the toxins in the air gave Ursta mesothelioma, which claimed his life on his 52nd birthday (The Tube City Almanac).
Get Asbestos Legal Help
Multiple World Trade Center asbestos trust funds have been established to compensation victims of asbestos exposure. The Asbestos Trust Funds have about $30 billion in compensation available, and the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund has been extended through at least 2090 by federal law. Complete the form or call us toll-free (800) 352-0871 to find out how to receive compensation.