Mind and Body

The Cancer Legacy of Ground Zero

The moving 9/11 tributes were poignant and somber reminders of one of the most horrific days in our nation’s history. A decade later, reliving the unimaginable haunting images of the collapsing twin towers and honoring the loss of humanity remains heartbreaking and seared into our memory as if it were yesterday.

Anyone watching the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings or looking at the chilling photographs of the colossal cloud of smoke and ash filling the air of lower Manhattan could see those responding to this horror were unselfishly exposing themselves to an unknown, potentially health and life threatening environment.

Those fortunate enough to survive were awash in toxic debris. In the days and months after the attack, workers and nearby residents ingested and inhaled minuscule particles of fine dust that was a mixture of cement, glass, fibers, plastics, asbestos, chemicals and heavy metals (lead and mercury), many of which are known cancer-causing agents.

However within five days of the attack, EPA Administrator Christie Todd Wittman, was assuring the public that there was nothing to fear from the rubble that rained down on the city. 

“I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C. that their air is safe to breath [sic],” Wittman proclaimed.

In the months that followed, thousands of police, firefighters, paramedics and volunteers painstakingly sifted through the ruins searching for the fallen and breathing in the toxic air, which government officials had confidently declared “safe.”

Even as we paused to commemorate the 9/11 attacks, thousands of those same first responders have been diagnosed with cancer(s) and coping with other chronic, debilitating illnesses believed to be caused by their work at Ground Zero.

More than 20,000 first responders have been evaluated at the World Trade Center Monitoring and Treatment Program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City for physical and psychological problems.

Besides cancer, the most common illnesses include upper and lower respiratory problems, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In 2010, congress created a $4 billion fund precisely for aiding 911 responders and Ground Zero clean-up workers experiencing health problems and loss of income. Despite the thousands of cases recorded, many responders have reported limited help for their medical treatment from the federal program. Cancer victims in particular have been told they do not qualify because government scientists have been unable to confirm a link between their disease and the Ground Zero environment. And sadly, many have already died.

In a new report in Scientific American, What Was in the World Trade Center Plume? (September 7, 2011), David Biello delves into the toxic atmosphere around the twin towers and the possible health consequences for those courageous responders and nearby residents. 

Although government scientists only recently concluded there was “insufficient evidence” to link the first responders cancer cases to the toxic air, another seven year, federally funded study found those who responded to the attack and continued working at Ground Zero were more likely to develop cancer(s) when compared to fellow responders who were not exposed.

Our government has a long and regrettable history of abandoning its soldiers when it comes to compensating them for their injuries and illnesses suffered in the line of duty. Demanding “scientific certainty” for illnesses that can take years to research means these victims – who were assured the environment was “safe” – will be forced to endure additional physical, financial and emotional hardship.

To honor those lost on 9/11 and the courageous actions of all who responded to this national tragedy, we cannot turn away from these heroes in their time of need and own personal suffering.
Congress needs to step in without delay and demand cancer be added to list of illnesses covered under the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Federally funded health insurance coverage should be provided NOW -- not after hundreds more die.

Deirdre Imus is the Founder and President of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health CenterTM at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. Deirdre is the author of four books, including three national bestsellers. She is a frequent speaker on green living and children’s health issues, and is a contributor to FoxNewsHealth.com. For more information go to www.dienviro.com

Deirdre Imus, Founder of the site devoted to environmental health, www.ImusEnvironmentalHealth.org, is President and Founder of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center® at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder/Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent contributor to FoxNewsHealth.com, and Fox Business Channel. Check out her website at www.ImusEnvironmentalHealth.org. Follow her on Twitter@TheGreenDirt and 'like' her Facebook page here.