Three retired firefighters who worked at the so-called “Ground Zero” site in Manhattan have died on the same day from cancer, an illness that many fear might be connected to toxic New York City World Trade Center dust released on Sept. 11, 2001, fire officials said on Thursday.
Lieutenant Howard Bischoff, 58, and firefighters Robert Leaver, 56, and Daniel Heglund, 58, died within hours of one another on Monday.
The deaths serve as “a painful reminder that 13 years later, we continue to pay a terrible price for the department’s heroic efforts,” New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a statement.
Thousands of people who aided in the rescue and recovery effort were diagnosed with respiratory ailments and other health problems in the years after the attacks. However, cancer remains the biggest fear for people exposed to the gritty soot at the site.
The US Congress has set aside US$2.78 billion to compensate people with illnesses that might be related to the attacks. Administrators of the fund have included the most common types of cancer as qualifying illnesses.
“On that day when first responders arrived, the air was toxic and remained toxic for many months afterward,” Uniformed Fire Officers Association president James Lemonda said.
The deaths come as advocates urge Congress to reauthorize the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides medical treatment and compensation to those who got sick from exposure to toxic air after Sept. 11.
Officials knew the three were sick, Lemonda said. One had leukemia, one had esophageal cancer and the third had colon cancer.
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