September 1st, 2001 is a day that changed the lives of all Americans. 17 years later, many people still struggle with the emotional and physical side effects of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. The lives of the families and loved ones of the 2,977 people killed were forever changed. Though, out of this tragedy, we saw the best in humanity – hundreds of thousands of people from around the world reached out a hand in support while ground crews at Ground Zero began the clean-up.
The Effects of Ground Zero
Since 9/11, health officials and the personnel on the ground have found that the dust at Ground Zero created a “wildly toxic” environment. When the planes crashed, 24,000 gallons of jet fuel lit and the fires burned for almost 100 days. The resulting dust contained over 2,500 thousand contaminates including glass, mercury, and lead. During the rescue and recovery operations, workers were also exposed to asbestos, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other toxins. The official workers at ground zero eventually received protective gear, but other volunteers and workers such as day labors and undocumented workers never received proper gear. As they cleaned the dust from nearby office buildings and worked in the surrounding areas, they used bandanas, flimsy surgical masks, and other homemade protection instead.
of surveyed 9/11 rescue workers reported not wearing protective gear in the first few days
I helped clean the buildings around ground zero for over a year wearing only a flimsy mask. I was misdiagnosed with asthma and finally in 2009 I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis.
On the first day of clean up, over 300 workers received treatment for eye and respiratory problems caused by the dust. Eventually, many developed sore throats, had trouble breathing and had the “WTC cough.” More than 7,000 firefighters and EMTs have been treated for a 9/11 related illness or injury since 2001, with 110 of them reportedly dying from 9/11 related illnesses. 5,400 of these people have been diagnosed with a lower respiratory problem. 5,200 have also been diagnosed with an upper respiratory problem.
Sarcoidosis Resulting from 9/11
Since there is lung involvement in 90% of all sarcoidosis cases and given the amount of airborne contaminants, it’s not surprising sarcoidosis is prevalent among workers at Ground Zero. In the U.S, the average rate of sarcoidosis is between 10 – 35 per 100,000 people. For firefighters who worked at ground zero, however, the rate is 56 per 100,000 people. In a study done of 9/11 exposed firefighters, they had a 1-9% higher chance of developing sarcoidosis in their joints and a 3-11% greater chance of developing cardiac sarcoidososis.
I became afflicted with sarcoidosis as a result of 9/11. The first day I worked without a mask and I spent about 6-8 months at Ground Zero after that. I did what I had to do, I did my job.
of people who worked in the first three months after 9/11 wore only a surgical mask for protection
Post 9/11 Advocacy
In 2011, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was signed into law. The Act “provides health care and economic aid for those who are suffering, or have died as a result of the attacks.” This program helps provide healthcare and medical monitoring to an estimated 72,000 Americans. The difficult journey did not end there for those with health problems resulting from their work at Ground Zero. In 2015, congress refused to cooperate and the act nearly expired. With the dedicated efforts of first-responders and other advocates who campaigned to their legislators, the World Trade Center Health Program was made permanent later that year and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was extended until 2020.
The victims and loved ones of those affected by 9/11 still need help to ensure the James Zadroga Act continues beyond 2020. If you’d like to find out more information, and see how you can help our nation’s first responders, visit:
FSR would like to thank all who have risked their lives to save others on 9/11 and in the years that followed. The hard work and selflessness of these individuals helped bring America out of one of its most difficult times. To the sarcoidosis patients who were firefighters, first responders, volunteers, or helped out around the world, we want you to know we are here supporting you to this day.
For more information on current advocacy efforts and how you can help make sure our heroes get the care they need and deserve: