Nearly 18 years after tragedy struck the United States from the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001, cases of malignant mesothelioma are beginning to surface. An alarming number of mesothelioma deaths related to the rescue and cleanup efforts in the aftermath of 9/11 is on the rise. Many victims have endured serious health problems as a result of their involvement during and after the attack. Mesothelioma has been directly connected to the extensive recovery efforts after the horrific attack. Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer with no cure. It is a disheartening diagnosis, but there are programs that victims, such as responders, volunteers, and survivors may qualify for.
September 11, 2001 Attack and the Link to Mesothelioma
Manhattan was a blizzard of toxic dust-covered with a toxin-filled cloud containing over 400 tons of fragmented asbestos flooding the streets after the collapse of the Twin Towers. Manhattan was a cesspool of toxic dust full of carcinogens. One report shows states, “[s]cientists quickly became aware that first responders, survivors, and others had been exposed to asbestos in the cloud of dust ‘since it had been used in the construction of the Twin Towers in the late 1960s.’”
A decade after 9/11, doctors and other professionals predicted the potential threat of mesothelioma that could plague the brave men and women who participated in the rescue and cleanup. According to the article published by CNN, “[o]ne theory about how cancer might develop so soon among responders is that the unique characteristics of ground zero dust, and the sheer number of chemicals contained in it, may have accelerated disease in responders.”
Now, as we are nearing the end of 2019, health professionals say we are just scratching the surface of what is to come. Researchers found that there was a variety of compounds immersed in the ground zero dust, and among them were known carcinogens. The jet fuel that sparked multiple fires along with asbestos that caked on the Trade Center’s columns and benzene. All of which is a recipe for disaster when it comes to the risk of contracting mesothelioma.
According to a source, “[t]he exposure problem at ground zero included more than 24,000 gallons of jet fuel that ignited a fire, which spread to 100,000 tons of organic debris along with 130,000 gallons of transformer oil and more than 100,000 gallons of heating and diesel oils in buildings. That doesn’t include burning fuel from thousands of vehicles parked in underground lots.”
The rescue and recovery efforts were not short. This was due to the mass volume of ruins and clean up required; it took weeks to complete the cleanup efforts. Everything inhaled or touched contained a profuse amount of layered asbestos-laced dust.
Close to two decades after the terrorist attack, a disquieting number of mesothelioma cases are on the rise and prove to be the direct result of the recovery efforts and cleanup. Thousands of people were in Manhattan that day and inhaled the thick toxic air forever, vesting the fumes in their bodies. Since that day, thousands have fallen ill or have lost their life. The attack and its aftermath not only affected rescue teams, but it also directly affected those who lived in surrounding neighborhoods or those who worked in Manhattan.
The Center for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) established a map defining the “New York City Disaster Area.” It included any area within the city that was south of Houston Street in Manhattan and “Any block in Brooklyn that is wholly or partially contained within a 1.5-mile radius of the former World Trade Center site.”
Cancer does not Discriminate
That cancer registry includes victims that served as volunteers, emergency responders, and members of recovery crews. It also includes survivors from the attack and anyone near the World Trade Center. Teachers who were working in the lower Manhattan schools have been urged by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) to see a doctor for medical screening. One teacher, in particular, Maria Sanabria, was teaching in a school in Manhattan. Over 15 years later, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer as a direct result of her contact with the toxic dust she inhaled. There are also reports of people getting in their car and turning on their air conditioning, where the dust remained and recirculated for months.
9/11-Related Mesothelioma cases are a National Concern
Mesothelioma has not made its presence fully known since the aftermath of 9/11. However, there have been more and more cases reaching the surface. Mr. Ursta’s passing is shining the light on the brutal reality that is to follow in the next several years.
Nick Ursta was one of the many brave responders to help with the rescue efforts after the attack on New York City in 2001. Mr. Ursta was a 14-year volunteer firefighter and traveled from Versailles, Pennsylvania, to serve as a responder at Ground Zero. When Mr. Ursta and the rest of the crew from White Oak Rescue arrived, they were immersed in a dense cloud of toxins. Face masks were becoming so scarce that Mr. Ursta and his wife had to share one.
Sadly, Mr. Ursta lost his battle with mesothelioma on October 29, 2019, which was also his 52nd birthday. His oncologist confirmed that his development of mesothelioma was linked to the exposure during his rescue efforts in New York City.
Director of the World Trade Center Health Program located at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, Michael Crane, stated in a recent news article, “[a]lready, 9,500 of 76,000 responders have been diagnosed with types of cancer that can result from toxic exposures at ground zero. While 3,500 of those are treatable skin cancers, the number reflects a rate higher than expected in the general population.”
Dr. Crane, along with other medical professionals, expect to see a sharp increase in such cancers since we are approachingthe 20-year anniversary of the attack. In Dr. Crane’s interview with the Post-Gazette about Mr. Ursta’s case expressed, “I hope this will remain occasional and very rare, but we are all concerned about that pathway to lung cancer and mesothelioma.” Dr. Crane said, noting massive amounts of asbestos at ground zero. “It’s something we must keep an eye on.”
Mr. Ursta’s wife of 25 years, Margaret Ursta, has not yet presented with any symptoms of mesothelioma even though she was exposed to the same levels of toxic asbestos-containing dust.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Initial Air Quality Report
The Environmental Protection Agency did not collect any air samples on the day of the attack. In fact, on September 18, 2001, director Christie Whitman of the EPA notified the public that the affected air “was safe to breathe.” They recommended that clean up proceed as normal. However, this statement on top of faulty testing was a fatal error. That error alone affects thousands of Americans who continued to live in the area and remined to work on-site.
A lower Manhattan resident named Nina Lavin lived in an apartment confined within the “New York City Disaster Area.” She provided a statement at a hearing before the Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health of the Committee on Environment and Public Words United States Senate on June 20, 2007. In her statement, she discusses the lethal error of the EPA and its director, Christie Whitman’s announcement that the air was safe:
“Her statement is directly at odds with what she, her agency, and the administration already knew: that out of 143 bulk samples collected out of doors in the days immediately following 9/11, 76% of the tests contained asbestos and 34% of those tests met the regulatory definition of asbestos-containing materials, or ACMs as they are known.
And EPA would also have understood that while outdoor toxins may dissipate over time with wind, rain, and sunlight, those that make their way indoors can build up and remain in high concentrations, settling on surfaces only to be stirred up over and over, often invisibly, as people go about their daily lives. In addition, and importantly, those results were only for asbestos, the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we were exposed to down here.”
Ms. Lavin was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis in July of 2002. She was still enduring treatment at the World Trade Center Environmental Health Clinic at the time she provided her statement in 2007 before congress. She expressed her fear of potential long-term consequences from her continued exposure to the toxic air.
Ms. Lavin concludes her statement with a question that is still seeking answers today, “[w]hat were we exposed to, for how long, and are we still being exposed? Unfortunately, we have no answers to any of these questions, in large part, because the EPA refused to take its responsibility for assessing and cleaning up indoor contamination.”
The Similarities between the Libby, Montana Incident and 9/11 Asbestos Exposure
Libby, a small town in Montana, is the site of one of the nation’s worst environmental disasters. The man-made catastrophe all started in 1919 when companies began pulling vermiculite from the mines. Vermiculite was used in a number of construction materials such as insulation. Over several years of mining vermiculite, the miners and residents of Libby, Montana were exposed to a suffocating amount asbestos-rich dust.
In 1963, W.R. Grace & Company assumed operations of the mines. The company had knowledge that the vermiculite was polluted with asbestos, and they were aware of the serious health complications that could follow. However, they turned a blind eye to the issue and continued mining operations.
All of the mines in Libby, Montana were shut down in 1990. Unfortunately, the serious health implications as a result of the asbestos exposure have been responsible for hundreds of deaths, and over 3,000 residents in the small town of Libby suffer from an asbestos-related disease, including mesothelioma. The dust from the mine traveled miles through the small town, thus impacting the entire community.
Libby has created a non-profit community-based clinic called the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD) Clinic. As of 2014, CARD was seeing an average of 35 new patients each month. The latency period from the initial exposure to asbestos can be several decades. That is why CARD is seeing such a steady influx of new patients each month. Just as the 9/11 attack over 18 years ago, the number of mesothelioma diagnosis and deaths are starting to emerge at an alarming rate.
What is the World Trade Center Health Program?
The World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program provides healthcare to those affected by the 9/11 terrorist attack. It was developed by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. In recent years, the Program was reauthorized until 2090.
The World Trade Center Health Program provides treatment and medical monitoring to responders (recovery workers, volunteers, and emergency responders) for those who helped at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the responders that were a part of the recovery efforts at the crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The program is supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) and works to detect and track any long-term physical and mental health effects of 9/11. The program corresponds directly with the program’s enrollees and addresses the individual concerns of each member. The program also offers guidance and research to healthcare professionals to help plan for any future emergency.
Who Qualifies for Care under the World Trade Center Health Program?
There are certain requirements that must be met to qualify for the World Trade Center Health Program. An individual must match one of the four descriptions:
- Fire Department of New York Responder – This includes a member of the FDNY, which consists of any active, retired firefighter of emergency personnel who participated in at least one day of the rescue, recovery, and cleanup efforts in ground zero.
- General Responder – a general responder, is either a volunteer or worker who participated in provided rescue and recovery. Additionally, general responders who provided debris removal, or demolition, or any other related service in the aftermath of the attack could qualify for the program.
- New York City Survivor (present in the dust cloud) – a survivor is an individual who was present within the defined “New York City Disaster Area” or” who was present in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center as a result of their work; residence; or attendance at school, childcare, or adult daycare.”
- Pentagon/Shanksville, PA Responders – “for emergency responders, recovery and cleanup workers, and volunteers who were directly involved in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the Pentagon in Arlington, VA and the Flight 93 crash near Shanksville, PA.”
World Trade Center Health Program’s 2018 Annual Reports
The World Trade Center Health Registry produces annual reports to its enrollees. The report shares new research findings conducted by the program and provides personal stories and developments with current members. In the 2018 World Trade Center Health Registry Report, the Director of the Program, Mark Farfel, expressed, “[b]y sharing these stories with other enrollees, we hope to build a stronger sense of community within the registry. We care about you and your health and can help you access 9/11-related health care.”
World Trade Center Health Program 2019 Research Findings
According to the September 2019 World Trade Center Health Program’s Quarterly Report, the program has a total enrollment of 99,769. The total enrollment in June of 2019 was 97,808. Here is the breakdown by member type in September 2019:
- General Responders – 59,097(59%)
- Survivors – 22,865 (23%)
- FDNY Responders – 16,993(17%)
- Pentagon/Shanksville Responders 814 (1%)
The Overall Enrollment in the World Trade Center Program as of September 2019 totals 99,769. The report notes that of the total members, 2,593 are deceased as of September 2019. Of the 99,769, 76,904 were responders, and 22,865 were survivors. Since the last quarterly report released in June of 2019, there has been an increase1,961 to the registry. In just a few months, 795 responders and 1,166 survivors were added to the registry.
Research was also conducted on the member type and gender. The total member type that were males as of September 2019 was 76,719, which makes for 79% of the total registry (67% responders and 12% survivors. The total number of female members was 20,015, which accounts for 21% of the memberships in the program (9% responders and 11% survivors. The study was not able to capture data on 442 other enrollees, which accounts for less than 1% here. The statistics in this study did not include the 2,281 deceased males or 312 deceased females.
The September quarterly report also illustrates the members with certifications of conditions recognized by the Zadroga Act. Many cancers are considered certified conditions. Across the board, the registry currently has a living enrollment of 15,543 (10,649 responders and 4,894 survivors) members with a form of cancer developed as a result of 9/11. The number of deceased members diagnosed with cancer enrolled in this program totaled 788 individuals (682 responders and 106 survivors).
The number of current members, along with new enrollees, is expected to increase dramatically. This is due to the long latency period that is common with cancers such as mesothelioma. The cancer can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years to show any symptoms. Now, over 18 years later, many responders and survivors are starting to experience the symptoms and be diagnosed with the disease.
What Does the World Trade Center Health Program Cover?
Mesothelioma is just one of the many cancers and conditions covered under the World Trade Center Health Program. The program provides health care, monitoring, and treatment to nearly 100,000 people directly affected by the 9/11 attacks. The program recognizes more than 60 different cancers that can be connected to the toxic cloud of asbestos-filled dust that blanketed the “New York City Disaster Area.” Mesothelioma was added to the cancer coverage list in 2012.
Compensation for the 9/11 Injuries of Death of a Loved One under the World Trade Center Health Program
9/11 has a Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) that offers compensation for any individual or personal representative of an individual who endured physical harm. The Victim Compensation Fund also provides compensation to the appropriate party if an individual was killed as a result of 9/11 or during the cleanup efforts in the aftermath of the disaster. The VCF is still accepting claims until December 2020.
Preparing for the Future 9/11 Mesothelioma Victims
It is crucial to prepare now for any future catastrophic events. According to Scientific American, “[i]n future such disasters, strapping on a respirator may be among the most important safety precautions people can take. ‘For the future, we need to make sure people going into harm’s way have respiratory protection of some degree that also allows them to move freely enough to rescue people,’ Lioy says. Today, more than 12,000 of the 9/11 rescue workers continue to have trouble breathing, according to a study conducted by the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program and published April 8, 2010, in the New England Journal of Medicine.”
The development of any 9/11 related diseases is not just reserved for the rescue workers — anyone who inhaled the toxins from the asbestos-filled cloud is at risk. Numerous New Yorkers, from accountants to teachers to lawyers, have suffered from conditions directly related to 9/11. However, today, mesothelioma is starting to make its presence known. More and more mesothelioma cases are being diagnosed and can be traced back almost two decades to the initial exposure from 9/11 and its aftermath.
Mesothelioma can present itself at any time; it does not have a statute of limitations and refuses to acknowledge deadlines. One’s risk for contracting mesothelioma as a result to their exposure during or after the 9/11 attack does not dissipate or decrease. The timeframe to contract mesothelioma after exposure does not expire.
The key is to stay proactive, and if you or a loved one were a part of the rescue or relief, it is important to get screened. Again, cancer does not have a statute of limitations, it does not discriminate, so staying on top of your health is a priority.