When the Twin Towers fell in New York City in 2001, first responders and emergency personnel acted as first responders do. They answered the emergency call and tried to save people trapped in the buildings and rubble. They didn’t think about the long-term effects of working at the site.
Now, 18 years later, the long-term damage is evident. Malignant mesothelioma has become the latest deadly cancer linked to ground zero rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts.
First mesothelioma death due to 9/11
Nick Ursta was part of the White Oak EMS team that arrived in Manhattan the day after the attack. He was a construction worker and firefighter by trade. Mesothelioma took his life at the age of 52.
Ursta is believed to the first person to die of mesothelioma because of asbestos exposure at ground zero. His oncologists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center confirmed his cancer was linked to work he performed on 9/11.
His wife, Margaret, also assisted with the recovery and cleanup at ground zero and says that asbestos was everywhere during their time there, including in the toxic cloud of dust that hovered over the cleanup site. Asbestos was used in the construction of the Twin Towers in the late 1960s. The material becomes dangerous when it is disturbed and releases dust and fibers into the air.
Often, mesothelioma symptoms don’t develop until 20-50 years after the asbestos exposure that causes the disease. Now, many doctors fear that more and more first responders and those who spent a lot of time at ground zero after 9/11 will develop mesothelioma in the coming years. Usually, patients diagnosed with mesothelioma die within 12 months of the first signs of illness.
Other 9/11-related illnesses
Studies already have shown that those exposed to the toxic dust at ground zero are more likely to develop lung problems and respiratory symptoms, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and COPD.
EMS personnel from across the country traveled to ground zero after 9/11 to help with the rescue, recovery and cleanup effort. Ohio had a special task force of FEMA representatives at the site.
Other cancers linked to exposure to toxic chemicals at ground zero include prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, multiple myeloma, skin cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma. Now, mesothelioma officially joins that list.