September 11th, 2001 will always be a day marked by tragedy and loss for the United States. As clouds of smoke and fumes engulfed New York City, brave first responders rushed to the scene to save whoever they could. They were met with flames, and sheets of toxic debris that filled their throats and lungs.
Exposure to carcinogens not only happened abruptly that day, but gradually over time. Responders then spent months at ground zero mending the area, continually being exposed to the lead, dust, asbestos, glass and deteriorating rubble that remained. While ground zero has since been repaired and renewed, the health of those who worked at the site will never be the same.
Those who were there that day, those who lost family members, and Americans as a whole have done a lot of healing since 2001. However, the health repercussions of the attack are long from being over. In fact, the health of civilians and first responders who were in the vicinity of the twin towers that day are being affected at higher rates than ever.
For many responders and civilians who were there, it’s not a matter of if they will get sick, but when the symptoms will begin to show. There were 2,996 deaths on the day of 9/11 and since that day 2,000 people have died from related diseases. It’s estimated that deaths from health consequences from 9/11 will exceed the day alone in the coming years.
Due to the exposure to carcinogens in the air that were easily inhaled that day, the most prevalent issues include cancers of the lungs, skin, abdomen, head and neck. These cancers can take years to develop in the body, which is why even 18 years after the attacks, victims are still being diagnosed. It’s believed that in the coming years, there could be a spike in asbestos-related diseases. Mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos can have a long latency period of 20 plus years, and doctor’s fear that there could be an increase in cases linked to 9/11.
Supporting our Heroes
Since the discovery of this epidemic, activists and lawmakers took action to support victims who developed illnesses attributed from that day as well as anyone who might become sick in the future. The James Zardroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was a law passed in late 2010 that aimed to support 9/11 first responders and other victims as they dealt with continued disability and sickness related to the September 11th terrorist attacks.
An important piece of that legislation was the financing of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). This fund allowed victims to file claims and be compensated into the future; however, the fund is set to expire in 2020 if not reauthorized by congress. In the coming months, the compensation fund will be presented to the Senate in order to allocate funding again.
Advocates and 9/11 survivors have been fighting and campaigning in D.C. to have the bill restored, but have been met with opposition in getting the bill passed through congress.
In mid-June, comedian Jon Stewert showed grit and emotion as he sat alongside 9/11 survivors in a House Judiciary hearing over the fund. Stewart became emotional after noting the amount of congresspeople that just didn’t show up to the hearing.
“Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders, and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress,” said a frustrated Stewart on June 11th. “I’m sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic. But I’m angry and you should be, too.”
Stewart, a New York City native, has been a long-time supporter of 9/11 first responders and has been using his voice and platform in the last year to inspire lawmakers to take a stand and get the fund passed again. The bill has been passed through the House of Representatives, but will face a tougher road when going through the Senate.
If the bill is passed, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has issued an estimate that it would cost around $10.2 billion to cover the next 10 years. Those funds would cover the current shortfall of the fund, as well as any future claims made. Since the bill has been passed in the House of Representatives, it could be promptly passed if brought directly to the floor by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky). The question is whether McConnell will move quickly to make this issue a priority.
Taking a Stand
Many people are still suffering and looking for a lifeline 18 years after their exposure. Annually, citizens and lawmakers alike take a pledge to “never forget” those who we lost that day and bow our heads in a moment of silent remembrance. Who is being forgotten today are the heroes that are still here and fighting for their health, and what is required will be the sounds of our voices to speak up for the survivors and their families.
Whether it be calling a Senator, member of congress, or even a local politician to champion this issue, citizens across the county have a platform to speak out and take a stand. This should be a bipartisan issue and the more strong voices there are on both sides of the isle, the faster victims and their loved ones will receive the help they so desperately need.