Death Toll From Cancer for 9/11 Responders Expected to Outnumber Victims of Attack

11 Sep, 2018 Liz Carey


New York, NY ( – As the nation recognizes the 17th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City, officials worry that deaths to first responders at the World Trade Center will soon outnumber deaths to those who lost their lives that day.

Officials estimate that more than 2,000 of the first responders who were in and around the two World Trade Centers when they collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001 have died of cancer they developed as a result of exposure to the toxic blend of ash, chemicals and other toxic materials they dug through to find survivors.

Nearly 10,000 first responders and others who were in the World Trade Center area that day have been diagnosed with cancer. Officials anticipate that the number of those who die from those cancers will exceed the more than 2,600 who died in the attacks that day.

“We’re nervous,” said Dr. Michael Crane, medical director for the World Trade Center Health Program Clinical Center of Excellence at Mount Sinai, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal. “I worry about everything. I literally worry about everything.” 

Dr. Crane said that unlike normal occupational health risks, where calculations could be made based on chemical exposures, the response and recovery efforts for the 9/11 attacks were different. From melting steel to burning asbestos and computer equipment to toxic gases released by jet fuel, more than 90,000 people were estimated to have been exposed to the myriad of toxic chemicals released during the attack, and in the inches of ash that fell to the ground after the towers collapsed. 

“Every time (rescue and recovery workers) moved something, …a puff of smoke,” he said. “They didn’t know what they were dealing with, didn’t have the sort of adequate equipment to protect themselves. (They) were breathing the air, (they) were eating the particles.”

Now, Dr. Crane said, years later, the cancers are developing in those near the site. The rate of cancers among first responders to the attacks is up to 30 percent higher than in the general population, he said.

Numbers tell the story too.

In 2017, 23 current or former members of the NYC Police Department died of 9/11-related diseases, the same number of NYPD members who perished on 9/11. 

The Fire Department of NY lost 343 members on 9/11. Since then another 180 firefighters have been killed in the line-of-duty linked to 9/11.

One FBI agent died during the attacks. As of August 2018, 15 FBI agents have died from cancers linked to toxic exposure during the clean-up and investigation following the attacks.

In 2015, President Obama signed the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund Act into law, extending coverages for first responders and other who were injured physically or fiscally by the attacks. The act also created the World Trade Center Health Program that covered responders to the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, also involved in the attacks.

The program evaluates applicants for illnesses related to the attacks and, if found in the applicant, sets out a treatment plan.

“If you have a health condition(s) that is certified as a WTC-related health condition (i.e., an illness or health condition for which exposure to airborne toxins, other hazards, or other adverse conditions resulting from the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that was substantially likely to be a significant factor in aggravating, contributing to, or causing the illness or health condition), the WTC Health Program's healthcare providers will provide quality medical treatment for the WTC-related health condition,” according to the CDC. “Survivors who enroll will receive an initial health evaluation. The evaluation is to find out if you have a health condition eligible for coverage by the WTC Health Program. If you have a health condition that is considered WTC-related, the doctor will request that the WTC Health Program certify your condition(s) as eligible for treatment under the Program.”

Requests for comment from the NY Office of Workers’ Compensation were not received prior to press time.

Authorities said that many of those who are eligible for coverage have not signed up for the program. People who worked on the 9/11 recovery and rescue operation, either as an employee or a volunteer, can join the program. Other programs are available for those who lived, worked, attended school or were there in the area during the attacks. For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control’s World Trade Center Health Program at

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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