Eleven years ago on Sept. 11, thousands of American workers rushed to New York's World Trade Center to try and help rescue the victims of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers. In the aftermath of the 9/11 plane crashes that brought down the buildings and killed nearly 3,000 people, the work effort became a search for victims' remains as well as a major cleanup operation. The cleanup at the site was officially completed on June 30, 2002.
Many of first responders trapped in the cloud of dust as the towers fell or who worked in the still-smoking rubble at 9/11's Ground Zero have since complained of a slew of health issues, from post traumatic stress disorder to asthma and cancer.
Now, those workers with health issues will be getting some good news. As was first reported by the New York Post, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health will officially recognize at least 50 forms of cancer as having been caused by exposure to toxic debris at Ground Zero.
The policy change was confirmed late Monday in a statement from Dr. John Howard, the administrator for NIOSH's World Trade Center Health Program.
In it, he concedes that previously 9/11 survivors with cancer were not receiving the best possible treatment.
"Although we cannot quantify the benefits associated with the WTC Health Program, enrollees with cancer are expected to experience a higher quality of care than they would in the absence of the Program," he wrote.
As a result of the ruling, anyone diagnosed with a 9/11-cancer will be allowed to apply for an award from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. The fund has a chest of $2.77 billion.
The decision means that first responders with a 9/11 cancer will now be covered by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, the law formalizes the benefits program for all survivors of the attack. (Zadroga was a detective for the New York Police Department who died after working on the cleanup pile at 34 years of age. His father, John, is pictured speaking above.)
The decision will also be applicable for residents near who lived near Ground Zero at the time. About 400 people have died from 9/11 cancers, according to the New York Post, which broke the story on Sunday.
Some of the first responders, however, seemed lukewarm to the announcement.
"It's a bittersweet thing," John Walcott, an NYPD detective who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2003 after working months at Ground Zero told the New York Post. "It took 11 years to do what should have been done a long time ago."
Cancer is just one of the diseases that's become a chronic problem for 9/11 first responders. As was reported on AOL Jobs at the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, there were an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 participants in the cleanup effort. And according to the Manhattan-based Mount Sinai School of Medicine's WTC Screening, Monitoring and Treatment Program, the workers' incidence of asthma stands at 27.6 percent, or roughly three times higher than normal.
But that might be the least of it. The responders were exposed to roughly 2,500 toxins, including asbestos and mercury. And an estimated 1,000 people have died because of that exposure. And then of course there is the emotional trauma. According to the Mount Sinai program, 1 in 3 of the workers has experience depression and/or post traumatic stress disorder since working at Ground Zero.
And now enters the class of cancer victims. Walcott, now 48, spent eight months on the site, identifying remains of the victims, according to Newsday. Two years later, he was diagnosed with leukemia.
He was fortunate to receive a stem cell transplant in November 2003 that put the cancer into remission.
But the illness has left its mark. Because of neurological damage resulting from the leukemia, he's been unable to return to his job as a narcotics detective for the New York Police Department.
"I'm constantly in pain," he said. "But you learn to live with it."
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