What Are Some Health Issues from 9/11?

What Are Some Health Issues from 9/11?

By Troy Rosasco

 Respiratory and Digestive Issues

The “World Trade Center cough” was one of the first signs of exposure incurred at Ground Zero and the surrounding area. Doctors initially recognized the cough within the first six months after the attacks among members of FDNY and other responders who worked on rescue and recovery efforts at the debris pile. The condition included a persistent cough and other respiratory and digestive issues, including labored breathing, nasal congestion, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). For more information, please contact a 9/11 VCF lawyer.

Currently, ailments involving the respiratory and digestive system remain the most commonly diagnosed 9/11-related illnesses among the responders and survivors who seek medical treatment and monitoring through the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP), one of two federal programs that help the 9/11 community with medical issues they face from toxic exposure.

Other 9/11-related illnesses affecting this part of the body include:

  • Chronic rhinosinusitis
  • Asthma
  • Reactive airway dysfunction syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Researchers believe that the airway and digestive issues caused by exposure to the World Trade Center dust at and around Ground Zero resulted from a dangerous cocktail of inhalants, including pulverized alkaline dust from fragmented building materials and chemical products from exploding and burning materials. This alkaline dust resulted in inflammation of the airways and ultimately scarring and narrowing.

The lungs of some of the firefighters and others who were caught in the dust plume that enveloped the area when the twin towers collapsed aged 10 to 12 years during the first weeks and months after the attack. Smokers often fared the worst. Most people who suffered intense, early exposure to this plume had around a 10 percent reduction in lung function, and that reduction was still present many years later.


In the years since the attacks occurred, doctors have linked more than 70 cancers to 9/11 toxic exposure. Researchers have worked to untangle the facts of the dust plume’s contents to determine why 9/11 responders and survivors are at a higher risk of developing certain cancers. The plume contained numerous cancer-causing agents, including soot, benzene, cement, asbestos, heavy metals, and dioxins.

Research has found that responders exposed to the toxins in large doses or over the many months of rescue, recovery, and site cleanup are nine percent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer. They are 41 percent more likely to be diagnosed with leukemia, 25 percent more likely to suffer from prostate cancer, and have a startling 219 percent higher risk of thyroid cancer. The conclusions from these studies have been applied to people who worked, lived and went to school in lower Manhattan (south of Canal Street) between 9/11 and May 30, 2002, since this population of exposed people breathed the same toxic air as the first responders, often for even longer periods of time.

Other cancers linked to 9/11 exposure include:

  • Blood and lymphoid tissue cancers. In addition to leukemia, these cancers also include myeloma and lymphoma.
  • Breast cancers in both women and men
  • Cancer of the colon, rectum, and other parts of the digestive system.
  • Cancers of the eye and orbit.
  • Reproductive system cancers in both men and women.
  • Respiratory system cancers, including cancer of the lung and bronchus.
  • Both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
  • Cancer of the soft and connective tissue.
  • Kidney or bladder cancer and other cancers impact the urinary system.

All types of cancer have a latency period, which is the time between exposure to a cancer-causing substance and when cancer cells begin to multiply and grow within the body, sometimes producing symptoms. This is largely why doctors continue to diagnose new 9/11-related cancer diagnoses 20 years later. In fact, as recently as 2018, physicians who treat the 9/11 community were still in the beginning stages of witnessing the full impact of cancer on Ground Zero responders and survivors who lived, worked, and attended school or daycare in the area when the attacks occurred.

Mental Health Issues

Not all of the health impacts of 9/11 were physical. Studies have shown that the 9/11 terror attacks caused mental health struggles for many people across the country. They watched non-stop news footage for days.

The psychological impact of these images has been even more extreme among those who live in New York City, and mental health issues in responders and survivors who witnessed and experienced the horrifying events of the attack on the World Trade Center are even higher still. About 20 percent of adults who were directly exposed to the disaster still dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) five to six years after the attacks, which is about four times the rate of PTSD in the general population.

Other mental health issues linked to the trauma of 9/11 include:

  • Acute stress disorder
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Dysthymic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Substance use disorder

One of the significant risks involved with PTSD, depression, and other mental health disorders is the risk that the sufferer will commit suicide due to the illness. Recently, a study conducted by Rutgers University revealed that nontraditional emergency workers at Ground Zero—such as construction workers and cleanup staff—are more than five times more likely to have considered suicide following the attack than traditional emergency workers such as firefighters and police officers on the scene.

Researchers found several reasons for this, including the risks associated with responding to disasters without adequate training. This group of workers lacks options to assume less strenuous work than an emergency worker who may transfer to a desk job if they struggle with their work.

However, researchers also concede that some of the disparity in suicidal ideation between trained responders and nontraditional emergency workers is also a result of a reluctance by first responders to talk about mental health issues for fear of professional stigma.

Federal Help Is Available for Those Suffering From 9/11 Health Issues

One of the first acts of Congress following the 9/11 attacks was to create a fund to compensate those most impacted by the terrorist attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, PA. This fund—known as the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF)—primarily compensated family members of those killed in the buildings or on the planes and those injured on the ground at one of the attack sites.

The fund closed in 2004, and several years passed before Congress acknowledged that the attack responders’ and survivors’ needs intensified as latency periods ran out, doctors diagnosed more cancer cases, and the breathing difficulties that plagued them persisted.

In early 2011, President Barack Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act into law. This act reinstated the VCF and created the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) to provide medical treatment and monitor 9/11-related illnesses. Here is a look at these programs and the benefits they provide to 9/11 responders and survivors.


The World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP)

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) administer the WTCHP. The program provides medical treatment—including diagnostic testing, surgery, and prescription medication—free of charge for responders and survivors (including downton NYC workers, residents, students, and others) of the 9/11 terror attacks, as well as free health screenings to monitor this community for conditions related to their toxic exposure at Ground Zero. These services are provided at the program’s Clinical Centers for Excellence throughout New York City and through the program’s nationwide provider network.


The WTCHP has developed a list of covered conditions and a certification process for identifying a 9/11-related medical condition. The certification process is typically the first step to satisfy the eligibility criteria for compensation from the VCF for a 9/11-related physical condition.

The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF)

The Department of Justice administers the VCF, which began accepting new claims for compensation in 2011, with authorization to do so for five years. In 2016, Congress reauthorized the fund for another five years.

In 2019, the program’s Special Master reported that it was no longer financially solvent and that the fund lacked enough money to fully compensate all pending and future claims. As a result, it cut compensation on pending claims by 50 percent and new claims by 75 percent.

In July 2019, Congress passed the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, and President Donald Trump signed the act into law. This Act provided the funding to keep the program operational and authorized it to continue until October 2090 to guarantee that all those impacted by covered 9/11-related physical health issues could seek compensation.

While the WTCHP provides service for those with physical and mental health conditions related to 9/11, the VCF only compensates for physical health conditions.

The VCF requires those interested in filing a claim to register with the program. September 11th responders and survivors without a diagnosed 9/11-related illness can register at any time to reserve the right to file a claim if needed.

The WTCHP has a process where that Program certifies a physical illness as 9/11-related. Once a condition is certified by the WTCHP as 9/11-related, then registration with the VCF must take place within two years of that certification. Registration is not the same as filing a claim; the registration deadline is different for everyone.

Compensation from the VCF is also available for the family members of those who died due to 9/11-related illnesses. Registration with the program by someone who has legal authority to take action on behalf of the deceased’s estate must occur within two years from when the WTCHP certifies cause of death as 9/11-related. If the deceased was never in the WTC Health Program or the Health Program did not certify the cause of death as 9/11-related, then the deadline to register and file a claim is extended to the year 2090.

The VCF does not cap overall compensation, and claimants can seek compensation for income loss, other expenses, and pain and suffering. The VCF caps pain and suffering compensation at $90,000 for one non-cancer condition and $250,000 for one cancer condition. There are also certain other limitations on the VCF calculations involving lost wages and economic losses. Claimants can seek compensation for more than one 9/11-related condition.

An Attorney Can Help You Obtain 9/11 Benefits

Hansen & Rosasco, LLP - 9/11 Attorneys in New York
Hansen & Rosasco, LLP

Those seeking assistance to deal with their 9/11 medical issues need an attorney to apply to the WTCHP or to file a VCF claim. An attorney who regularly works with these programs provides an advantage when determining the documentation needed to prove presence at a terror attack site and show that they’re dealing with a 9/11-related medical issue. Contact us at (855) 353-4907

Posted under: 9/11 Cancers, 9/11 Victim Compensation, World Trade Center Health Program



    We Can Help. Click Here for a 0% risk FREE consultation to see if you are Eligible!