September 11th will live in Americans’ memories for obvious reasons, but for many first responders it may also mark the day that mesothelioma became a part of their lives. The rare and fatal form of cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos, one of many toxic materials that were released into the air in lower Manhattan when the World Trade Towers fell after terrorists flew commercial airplanes into them. There have already been thousands of people diagnosed with a variety of cancers after having worked at the site following the disaster, but because mesothelioma has a latency period that generally begins at about 20 years, physicians are anticipating that a wave of diagnoses will be coming soon.
Mesothelioma is far from the only illness that New York City’s first responders face as a result of the World Trade Center’s fall. A recent news report revealed that at least 20 men who were present at the site in the days following the tragedy have been diagnosed with breast cancer, while firefighters who entered the buildings on that day have been diagnosed with a variety of respiratory illnesses, polyps in their sinus cavities, asthma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more. Most who have not yet been diagnosed with cancer assume that they will be at some point as a result of their exposure to asbestos, lead, dioxins and other chemicals. Said one firefighter who worked that day, “We all think it’s coming at some point. It’s just a matter of when, not really if.” In addition to the 343 firefighters and paramedics who died when the buildings collapsed on September 11th, an additional 150 have died since of cancers and other illnesses.
There are federally funded programs that are tracking the diagnoses of mesothelioma and other illnesses. One of the best known is the World Trade Center Health Program, which was named for New York City police officer James Zadroga, who died of a 9/11-related cancer. The program has already enrolled 72,000 people, 8,000 of them have been diagnosed with cancer to date. With the latency of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, the program’s directors are bracing for a significant amount of new diagnoses in the next several years.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma and you need information or access to resources, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net at 1-800-692-8608.