9/11-Related Illness Deaths for FDNY Will Soon Surpass Deaths on Day of Attack
NEW YORK — Within the next year, the number of members of the New York City Fire Department who will have died from a 9/11-related illness will surpass the number of fire fighters and emergency medical technicians who died in the terror attack 21 years ago.
As of Friday, the New York Daily News reported this week, 306 active and retired FDNY members have died.
In a matter of weeks, and certainly months, the number is sure to exceed the 343 firefighters and EMTs who died as they tried to save the lives of others that day.
“We lost 30 in the last year, over 300 post 9/11 deaths,” said FDNY-Uniformed Firefighters Association President Andrew Ansbro during a recent news conference at the World Trade Center site.
“In the last week of the summer, we had a funeral every single day of the week for members that had passed from 9/11-related cancers,” Ansbro said.
James McCarthy, president of the FDNY-Uniformed Fire Officers Association, told the Daily News that the grim milestone will likely be passed sometime in the next six months.
“We have thousands of people who have been diagnosed with a 9/11 illness or cancer. Everyone has something, and that’s part of the problem,” McCarthy said.
The FDNY estimates that 11,000 active and retired FDNY and emergency medical service members have at least one certified World Trade Center-related illness, including cancers and respiratory and gastrointestinal issues.
Union officials and others have been calling for increased funding of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides health monitoring and aid to the first responders, volunteers and survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Then-President Barack Obama signed the act into law in 2010. It is named after James Zadroga, a New York Police Department officer whose death was linked to exposures from the World Trade Center disaster.
The act allocated $4.2 billion to create the World Trade Center Health Program, which provides testing and treatment to an estimated 117,000 first responders and survivors suffering from long-term health problems related to the 9/11 attacks.
But now advocates for the program fear a $3 billion budget shortfall could begin affecting services for 9/11 survivors late next year.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has vowed to secure the money needed to fully fund the program, but that didn’t happen before lawmakers left town to campaign for the upcoming midterm elections.
During her weekly press conference last Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said lawmakers would try to shore up the program, “Maybe even before the end of this year.”
A bipartisan bill led by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., would provide at least some of the money the fund needs. If lawmakers act on it quickly upon their post-election return, it could become part of an omnibus spending package for the upcoming fiscal year that lawmakers hope to pass by mid-December.
Pelosi said the House “certainly will meet the health needs of our first responders on 9/11.” When it comes to the timing, however, the answer remains, “We’ll see.”
One thing the House did do last Friday was pass legislation that would provide as much as $3 billion in payments to thousands of spouses and children of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks who were left out of previous compensation rounds.
The bill passed overwhelmingly, 400-31, in the last vote before lawmakers headed back to their district.
It then moved on to the Senate for approval, but that chamber is also in full election season mode, with no votes scheduled until Nov. 14.
The House bill would appropriate “such sums as are necessary” to shore up the fund, with its cost offset by $3 billion in unspent money from the Paycheck Protection Program, which offered forgivable loans to small business owners during the coronavirus pandemic.
Support for the first responders is also coming from other sources. On Sept. 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital with a $2.4 million grant to study how best to care for them into old age.
“Because World Trade Center responders were exposed to high levels of toxicants and intense psychological trauma — hazards that can accelerate the aging process — during the emergency response and cleanup following the 2001 disaster, they are likely at increased risk for premature aging and associated age-related syndromes, said Dr. Fred Ko, lead principal investigator and associate professor of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
The median age of these first responders is now 59, and by 2030, the majority of them will be 65 or over and at risk for aging-related conditions and consequences of the terrorist attacks.
Mount Sinai has been caring for this population through its World Trade Center Health Program’s Clinical Center of Excellence, part of the Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health at Mount Sinai.
“Using data from Mount Sinai’s WTC Health Program, the largest clinic for WTC responders, our team found that a substantial portion of general responders met the criteria for frailty. Furthermore, frailty was positively associated with 9/11 exposure severity and overall mortality,” Dr. Ko said.
“Our preliminary data indicate that one-third of the first responders meet criteria for frailty as determined by our frailty index, an association that increases with age, WTC exposure, and by occupation type. These findings underscore the urgent need for routine systematic assessments, such as frailty, as these heroic responders grow older,” said Dr. William Hung, a professor of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at Icahn Mount Sinai.
Results of the study, funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the CDC, will be instrumental in improving the capacity of the program to monitor and care for aging responders, the researchers said.
One reason so many FDNY members and others have gotten sick in the wake of the attacks is that they didn’t just respond to the initial emergency, they then spent days and weeks on the pile at Ground Zero, first hoping to find survivors, then later collecting remains.
During that period, many didn’t even leave the area for breaks or meals.
“That led to a lot of this exposure,” McCarthy told the Daily News.
According to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, 2,997 people died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, including 2,977 victims and the 19 hijackers, while thousands more were injured.
Of the 2,977 fatal victims, 2,753 were killed in the World Trade Center and the surrounding area, 184 at the Pentagon and 40 in Pennsylvania.