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Recent reports from the WTC Health Program, which provides medical advice and treatment to first responders who were at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, highlights a threefold increase in cancer cases amongst those on the scene.

Responding to the news, Helen Grady – Partner in Industrial Disease – establishes how the increase in cancer cases highlights the dangers of toxic materials in buildings.

6,378 separate cancers

The WTC Health Program’s tragic report highlights that in under 3 years the number of first responders on the scene at the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks who have developed cancer has risen from 1,822 to 5,441.

In total 6,378 separate cancers have been recorded by first responders who were working at the World Trade Center on the day that a terrorist attack claimed 2,996 lives and injured over 6,000 others.

It is claimed that the increase in cancer cases amongst first responders has steadily increased in the past year and a half, with the Medical Director of the WTC Health Program telling the New York Post that 10-15 responders are being diagnosed with cancer every week.

Toxic materials on-site

It is expected that the dust and smoke from the attacks is to blame for the sharp increase in cancer cases, with studies suggesting that materials present in the air during the aftermath of the attack could be linked to 50 types of cancer.

Many of the toxic materials that could have been inhaled, including asbestos, have a long latency period, which explains why responders are only now being diagnosed with the life-altering condition.

Due to this delay, the 9/11victim fund – which was established to provide compensation for victims and their families – only awarded its first payment for cancer in 2013.

The first case of a responder’s death being attributed to exposure of toxic chemicals in the aftermath of the attacks was James Zadroga, who was awarded a monetary settlement in excess of $1million in 2004 and inspired a federal law of the same name that was enacted in January 2011.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act allocated a further $4.2billion to the WTC Health Program for the purpose of identifying deadly diseases with a long latency period that developed as a result of the attacks in New York.

The Act expired in 2015, thus restricting many responders to just compensation, however after huge public outcry the Act was re-authorised, with its coverage extended to 75 years.

Following safety procedures

Due to the unprecedented response and the rapid nature in which first responders arrived to help out at the scene of the attacks, some safety guidelines were not followed and firefighters, police and their respective unions have criticised the then-Mayor over the lack of adequate protective equipment during the clean-up operation.

Studies have reported that within the first week of being at the attack site, 99% of exposed firefighters reported at least one new respiratory symptom.

Commenting on the report from the WTC Health Program, Helen says:

“This is a truly tragic story, as those brave first responders who have dealt with so much are now finding out that their exposure to toxic materials all those years ago has caused them to develop deadly cancers.”

“While it will never reverse the untold damage of that terrible day, the extension of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act for 75 years should cover the long latency of diseases like cancer and help mitigate the financial losses to first responders and their families.”

“We can look forward and hope that countries continue to ban the use of toxic materials, such as asbestos, in new buildings. These bans, while reactive in nature, may stamp out exposure for future generations.”

“While the US is yet to enact a complete ban on the use of asbestos, there is recognition of its dangers and a program of asbestos removal from public schools, office buildings and stores in place. However, the dormant nature of left over materials in so many buildings means those long latency diseases, such as the cancers tragically developed by first responders, will continue to appear decades after exposure.”

Written by Helen Grady

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