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Ground Zero illnesses persist a decade later

One of the darkest days in American history continues to live on in the form of illnesses and injuries to Ground Zero workers. Thousands of volunteers and paid responders developed serious health problems after they were exposed to the dust, fumes and smoke billowing from the ruins of the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

Studies suggest there's a link between cancer and exposure to the toxic air that enveloped Ground Zero that day and for several days afterwards.

Earlier this year, the president signed the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, providing $4.2 billion to pay health care costs for first responders and others for five years. The law also provides compensation to the families of victims and those who were injured that day or at Ground Zero in the days of rescue and recovery that followed.

The compensation law is named after New York City police detective James Zadroga. He was plagued by respiratory problems after 9/11, finally succumbing in 2006.

One scientist and author lays much of the blame for the respiratory problems experienced by responders on dust. That's what the five to 10 million tons of World Trade Center material turned into after the attack and the collapse of the twin towers.

People were breathing in particle contaminants such as chrysotile asbestos, lead, quartz, zinc and iron released from crushed concrete, gypsum, glass and other building materials.

For many of those responders and workers at Ground Zero in the first 72 hours, those particles and fibers led to what is known as the World Trade Center cough, as well as other ailments.

As we pause this weekend to remember those who died that day in Manhattan, let's also remember those who arrived on the scene to help victims. Too many of them have difficult memories to deal with, as well as serious health problems that still need attention.

Source: Asbury Park Press: "9/11 responders' health problems continue as anniversary approaches" by Todd B. Bates: Sept. 7, 2011

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