Illnesses Mount for Sept. 11 Survivors, But Help is Available (Op-Ed)

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Dr. Jacqueline Moline has directed the WTC Medical Program at Mount Sinai and now runs the Queens World Trade Center (WTC) Clinical Center of Excellence in the North Shore – LIJ Health System. Involved in the care of WTC debris-exposed workers since 2001, Moline was instrumental in developing medical programs for their treatment and has published over 20 articles on Sept. 11-related health effects. She contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Every year, September brings the promise of the start of school, a busier time at work after the summer break and the impending fall. But it also signals the anniversary of the darkest day in the United States, Sept. 11, 2001, when our nation was attacked. We mourn those who perished on that day. But we also honor those who responded — our first responders, construction workers and thousands of volunteers who set out to the World Trade Center (WTC) site to assist in any way they could. Many toiled for weeks or months, despite horrific conditions of smoke, dust and unstable rubble.

As the Freedom Tower finishes completion, and the WTC Memorial stands as a solemn remembrance of those we lost, we also need to recognize that there are many individuals still suffering adverse health consequences as a result of their exposures at the WTC site.

On Jan. 2, 2011, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 was signed into law, providing medical benefits for WTC responders and volunteers, as well as area residents and building occupants who worked in lower Manhattan.

Early on, there were concerns about cancer that might be related to the WTC exposures; after all, there was a toxic mixture of over 150 different compounds at the site, many known carcinogens. While the first wave of health problems were more often related to respiratory, sinus and gastrointestinal symptoms as well as mental health conditions, the second wave of health conditions is upon us now.

Physicians have seen increased rates of cancers in WTC-exposed individuals, and now medical experts consider more than 50 cancers to be WTC-related, enabling those individuals enrolled in a WTC health program to receive comprehensive care not only for their WTC-related upper and lower respiratory problems, mental health conditions and gastroesophageal reflux, but also their cancers.

To date, over 1,140 individuals have had a cancer certified by the WTC Health Program, a number that is growing every week. Because cancer can take years to develop, we expect that more individuals will develop cancer in the coming years, and even decades.

Let us all work together to make sure we can continue to provide care for our WTC responders. The Zadroga Act is only authorized for five years of care. What better way to remember our heroes of Sept. 11 than by ensuring they get medical coverage for diseases related to their work at Ground Zero. For information about the clinical programs, and to sign up, the website is www.cdc.gov/wtc.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on LiveScience.

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