Decades Later: Lingering Health Effects of Toxic Exposure Still Common Among the 9/11 Community

Robert A. Grochow
November 29, 2022

The events of September 11th were tragic, and now, even decades later, there are lingering health effects for people exposed to the toxic debris from that painful day. 

Those who helped clean up in the months after that sad day are also affected members of the 9/11 community. Thousands of survivors all over the United States are being diagnosed every year, most commonly with respiratory illnesses or cancer. 

An early cancer diagnosis can be lifesaving and can allow you to beat the disease through proper treatment. Being diagnosed with cancer when it is just starting in the body gives you a much higher chance of survival than seeing if cancer had already progressed before it was caught. 

Everyone who was near Ground Zero or a crash site on September 11th or in the months following that tragic event is encouraged to have regular cancer screenings and learn all they can about the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. The benefits offered through the program can make a significant difference in the lives of survivors and their families.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the options for lung cancer screening, the impact of exposure to toxic debris, and what you can do if you’ve received a lung cancer diagnosis or another type of respiratory illness. 

If you have questions about the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, we have experienced VCF attorneys who can help.

Call us today at 1-888-982-8428 or contact us online for a free consultation.

The lasting impact of toxic exposure at Ground Zero

According to the World Trade Center Health Program, 2,974 people lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks, and 4,343 survivors and first responders have died from cancer and illnesses related to toxic exposure in the years since the attacks occurred. 

Additionally, there are hundreds of thousands of people at risk from the trauma they experienced that day and the exposure to toxic debris after the attack.

One of the most significant issues for ongoing health problems is the carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) from gases, building materials, and jet fuel around the crash sites. These carcinogens got into the air, meaning they were inhaled by first responders, residents, and others nearby, including those that visited, worked, or went to school in the general area. 

The highest exposure to these dangerous chemicals was found in the ruins of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, also known as Ground Zero. 

According to Michael Crane, MD, MPH, and director of the World Trade Center Health Program Clinical Center of Excellence at The Mount Sinai Hospital, “while many people face a cancer diagnosis as they age, the rate of some cancers among first responders is up to 30 percent higher than in the general population.” 

This is a serious, significant risk that first responders to the 9/11 attacks and survivors will face for the rest of their lives.

Among first responders and survivors, lung cancer is among the top 10 most common cancers. The asbestos that settled into the lungs of anyone near Ground Zero in the days and weeks following 9/11 has caused mesothelioma, and other toxic chemicals have created additional problems with lung cancer and other respiratory conditions. 

Cancers throughout other body areas are also commonly seen in responders and survivors, as the debris that got into their lungs years ago has spread toxicity through organs and tissues.

At the time, the goal was to save people and clean up the crash sites. The severe effects of chemicals and debris at Ground Zero and other crash sites on 9/11 would not be seen until later, and many first responders and 9/11 survivors are now struggling with serious illnesses they would never have expected from their time on or near the site. 

Understanding the timeline of health Issues for lung cancer

Lung cancer, and other types of cancer, have a latency period. That means there is a period between exposure to carcinogenic chemicals and cancer development. 

During that time, cancer, or its potential to develop, is latent, or dormant, within the body. Not everyone exposed to cancer-causing debris will develop cancer during their lifetime, but many people exposed will have lung cancer or other types of cancer develop after a latency period.

According to a report from the CDC the latency period for cancer ranged from 2.2 years to 57 years. This report looked at 44 different types of cancer, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia had the fastest development period, with cancer of the transverse colon having the most extended latency period. 

Lung cancer associated with asbestos exposure had a minimum estimate for a latency of 19 years.

The latency period was shorter for lung cancer based on exposure to other types of chemicals. For example, exposure to chromium had a minimum latency period of five years, while soot had a period of nine years. 

Other toxic substances can also cause lung cancer, but these do not have specific latency observations or recommendations. 

Physical and mental health impacts from 9/11-related lung cancer

The symptoms of lung cancer include chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing that doesn’t go away (often coughing up blood), wheezing, feeling tired all the time, and losing weight unintentionally. 

According to the CDC these symptoms often aren’t present until the cancer is advanced, and at that point, the prognosis is often poor.

Sometimes people also ignore symptoms of lung cancer, especially if they feel tired but aren’t coughing, or if they’re wheezing a little but have asthma or other respiratory conditions that they attribute that wheezing to. 

Many people are tired from work or for other reasons, and weight loss may also not be realized for some time if it’s relatively slow. All this can lead to lung cancer developing before the affected person sees a doctor.

The Mayo Clinic states lung cancer is the leading cause of worldwide cancer deaths. Not only is this a serious and deadly condition, but it often spreads to other organs and tissues throughout the body. 

When this happens there may be additional symptoms that appear in other bodily locations, and it could be those symptoms that send a person to the doctor for a diagnosis. By the time it has spread (metastasized), it can be much more difficult to treat.  

Get free lung cancer screening  through the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program

Frequently screening for lung cancer is the best way to catch this deadly disease early, and early detection can lead to a much better outcome. As part of the benefits offered through the WTC Health Program, eligible members can receive an annual lung cancer screening

Cancer screening saves lives and is something everyone exposed to asbestos and other dangerous toxins, as well as their loved ones, should do.

Eligibility for the screening is based on your age and smoking history, so not everyone qualifies for this benefit. For those who qualify, it’s essential to have the screening for peace of mind and to catch lung cancer early if it does develop. 

While the prospect of having cancer is frightening, finding and treating it early is the best way to increase the odds of a good outcome.

Who is eligible for lung cancer screening from the WTCHP?

If you’re a member of the WTCHP and interested in annual lung cancer screening, it’s essential to know if you’re eligible. To qualify for these screenings you must be between 50 and 80 years of age. Additionally, you need to:

  • Be a current smoker, or someone who used to smoke and who has quit within the last 15 years, and
  • Have smoked for at least 20 “pack years,” which means 1 pack per day for a full year. If you smoked 2 packs per day for 10 years, for example, that would qualify as 20 pack years.

Anyone meeting these criteria is considered at higher risk for lung cancer, and can qualify for the screening.

Who is eligible for the WTCHP?

To be eligible to become a member of the WTCHP you must be diagnosed with cancer or another illness related to 9/11. Even if you weren’t present on 9/11 you may still be eligible, as many first responders spent time on the cleanup, which exposed them to toxic debris. 

The list of covered conditions is extensive, and if you have a connection to 9/11 and a diagnosis of one or more covered conditions, you may qualify to join the WTCHP.

Recovering compensation for your 9/11-related cancer or medical condition

Survivors of the 9/11 attacks, along with first responders helping at Ground Zero and other crash sites, were exposed to toxic debris and chemicals that can lead to cancer and other serious illnesses. 

Since September 11th there have been thousands of people who have developed health problems related to that day, and hundreds of thousands are still at risk.

Through care and compassion for survivors, first responders, and their families, our 9/11 attorneys are dedicated to helping everyone affected by the attacks receive compensation. 

Surviving spouses and family members may also be eligible for lifetime medical care and tax-free financial compensation through the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) claims process and the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP). 

Over the last 20 years, we have helped the 9/11 community overcome the complexity of the claims process, allowing the clients we have represented to recover maximum compensation for their 9/11-related lung cancer diagnoses.

If you have questions regarding the WTCHP or the VCF claims process for health screenings, lung cancer screening, or the process of eligibility, speaking with our experienced 9/11 attorneys at Gregory J. Cannata & Associates can provide you with the information you’re looking for. 

Call us today at 1-888-982-8428 or contact us online for your free consultation.

Robert A. Grochow
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Robert Grochow has over 30 years of experience as a personal injury lawyer in New York, serving as co-counsel in over a thousand cases. He has also received recognition as one of New York’s “Most Honest Lawyers” from the National Law Journal/Washington Post.

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