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On 12th anniversary of September 11 attacks, more than 1,100 reported cases of cancer among responders and survivors

It has been 12 years since nearly 3,000 Americans died at terrorist hand and since our country saw incredible examples of brave people stepping up to mend the country.

In addition to the trained first responders, countless volunteers, eager to lend a hand, descended upon New York City and Washington, D.C., to rescue fellow Americans and remove debris.

In the process, they were exposed to hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic debris that blanketed the area, including many known carcinogens.

Twelve years later, more than 1,100 people have reported cases of cancer stemming from the September 11 attacks- and doctors expect that number to grow.  

Fortunately, workers or volunteers who helped to clean up the debris may be eligible for free health benefits and other compensation- regardless of their immigration status.  

Here’s the catch. To receive benefits under the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, registration deadlines are approaching. Anyone diagnosed with a 9/11-associated illness as of Oct. 3, 2011, must register by this Oct. 3. Those already diagnosed with a 9/11-associated cancer – added later to the list of covered diseases – must register by Oct. 12, 2014.  

We must all get the word out to ensure that our country’s heroes who rushed to Ground Zero and the Pentagon receive the benefits they deserve.

More than 25,000 responders and survivors have registered for the compensation fund already- about 7,000 in the past two months alone.  

Emergency workers outside of New York also are applying for these benefits; at least 91 people who rushed to the site at the Pentagon and Pennsylvania countryside are signing up for federal benefits.  

The Associated Press reports:

“The Pentagon or Shanksville applicants are notable because, to date, no medical study or environmental survey has suggested that people who responded to either site were exposed to similar health hazards. They were on the scene for days rather than months. And there have been no reports of a strange rash of illnesses. Responders at those sites were given eligibility by Congress mostly out of a sense of fairness, without any clear indication that anyone was sick. A separate program administered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health expects as many as 1,500 Virginia and Pennsylvania responders to apply for free health monitoring and treatment. So far, just 19 have applied. At outreach meetings in recent weeks, NIOSH officials and health advocates suggested that responders at least enroll in the health program as a precaution, even if they are currently healthy.”    

In addition to caring for those who have been sickened in the aftermath of September 11, we must ensure that responders are better protected from these hazards in the future.

The New York Times has a story this week about improvements in respirators to better protect responders in the wake of the attacks.

“The government and the hazardous-equipment industry are working on a new generation of respirator masks, not just for rescue and cleanup workers but to prepare for outbreaks of disease and for still another emerging threat: the accidental releases of nanoparticles, the microscopic, engineered fibers that are starting to be used in electronics, food, medicine and more,” writes the Times’ Anthony DePalma.    

Since the attacks, the New York City Fire Department has invested more than $100 million in new respirators and other protective gear, replacing its inventory of self-contained breathing apparatus, the Times reports. The equipment is tested for proper fit, and firefighters and emergency medical workers are all trained to use it.

But questions remain about whether enough has been done, especially when it comes to those who are not properly trained or equipped to respond to a major disaster, like the construction workers who helped clear debris from ground zero.

“There have been clear advances in design and certification” of equipment used in response to attacks, said David M. Newman, an industrial hygienist with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. But he added, “In terms of the respirators most commonly used on a day-to-day basis and most commonly used in disaster response, I don’tsee any significant changes on the ground yet.”

For more information on 9/11-related illness and hazards, visit NYCOSH’s World Trade Center home page and other resources.

Together, we can all work together to protect our country’s responders and to ensure that they receive the benefits they are due.