The Sick Hero: 3 Health Issues of 9/11 First Responders


Millions of Americans and people around the world were stunned as they watched on television news of two commercial passenger planes that crashed into the World Trade Center twin towers on September 11, 2001. As the rest of the world watched in shock, more than 90,000 Americans sprung to action and volunteered to help look for survivors.

Ground zero, as the site where the twin towers would come to be known, was buried by a mountain heap of melted steel bars, shards of glass, and, unbeknownst to first responders, piles of toxic dust, noxious fumes, and smoke coming out of the rubble. They didn’t know that they were, in a way, practically digging their own graves for some 10 or 20 years down the road.

This informative post talks about the compensation fund for 9/11 responders who acquired illnesses due to the event. On the other hand, below is a list of the most common health issues they suffered.

  • Cancer

Almost 3,000 people died when the World Trade Center (WTC) twin towers came tumbling down. It’s been two decades since, but those who responded to the destruction as first rescuers have also been dying in increasing numbers.

There were an estimated 90,000 people known to be brave first responders at ground zero. They took part in the frantic efforts to look for survivors underneath the toxic landfill which covered ground zero. It was all part of the massive rescue and recovery operation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks as Americans scrambled to find survivors.

Of the estimated total number of responders, approximately 40,000 developed conditions later on or in the succeeding months. There are around 10,000 first responders and volunteers who were later on diagnosed with various kinds of cancers. These cancers were found out to be indubitably linked or associated with the toxins they were exposed to during the rescue operations.

The search and rescue took weeks and months. Many of them had no choice but to inhale the fumes, chemicals, noxious dust, and hazardous debris. Among those first responders, various research studies have linked at least 60 types of cancer to the 9/11 attacks. Of those who signed up for the WTC Health Program, at least 4,627 have already died as of 2020.

  • Respiratory and Digestive Illnesses

More than 76,000 rescue and recovery workers are registered with the Mt. Sinai WTC Health Program. Among the first responders who are enrolled in the WTC Health Program, the two most common conditions were chronic rhinosinusitis (otherwise known as nasal inflamed and gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD).

Almost half of the first responders who are still alive are suffering from a respiratory or digestive condition. These issues are also linked to 9/11. Many of those who developed ailments were diagnosed to have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic rhinosinusitis, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Some of the living first responders have fallen ill of other ailments or conditions which aren’t covered yet by the healthcare program, such as heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases. Yet researchers and medical experts familiar with the living first responders say the data is still unfolding. They’re saying it might yet be found that these non-covered illnesses are also directly linked or at least can be attributed to the 9/11 exposure they went through.

  • Mental Health Condition

Another research was done by Moshe Shapiro of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The study found out that among the first responders, around 74% were suffering from at least one physical or mental health condition. These conditions are directly linked to their exposure to debris from Ground Zero.

Of the 74% of first responders who fell ill, 28% were diagnosed to be experiencing a mental health condition. Some of them have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) while others are going through prolonged bouts of depression. There are also quite a number of them suffering from survivor’s guilt. Still, many more have been hooked to substance abuse and other addictive behaviors.


Help for First Responders

There have been numerous efforts to honor and remember the victims of 9/11. In the 20 years since, there have also been government programs to help living first responders by providing them with financial assistance for their healthcare needs. But this doesn’t cover any illness. There are only a handful of ailments, illnesses, and conditions that the funding assistance covers. As of the moment, more studies are needed to link some other conditions to the debris, toxic fumes, and trauma brought about by the 9/11 attacks.

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