World Trade Center Health Program Still Treating Hundreds of 9/11 Victims, 19 Years Later

CBS News Radio 880 - September 12, 2020

by SEAN ADAMS

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Friday marks 19 years since the terror attacks on the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan.

Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on that day, but since then, long-term health issues have been connected to the toxic dust that swirled through Lower Manhattan when the towers fell.

Countless New Yorkers, FDNY firefighters, NYPD officers and others have now developed chronic illnesses or cancers due to their work at or around Ground Zero.

Luckily, the estimated 400,000 people who were likely exposed to the toxic fumes in the aftermath of 9/11 can be monitored and treated at no cost to them thanks to the World Trade Center Health Program and the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.

“I really can't thank the folks NIOSH-CDC (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) enough,” says Dr. Michael Crane, who heads the WTC Health Program at Mount Sinai Hospital.

People who lived and worked in Lower Manhattan can get checked out at Bellevue Hospital but, of the 80,000 responders monitored at Mount Sinai, more than half have a certified 9/11-related health condition.

Among the most common illnesses are respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, cancer and mental health issues.

Doctors at the hospital treat 9/11 responders for a variety of issues, but for a while, coronavirus prevented in-person monitoring.

“We are back. I think our overall, right now, is two telehealth to one in-person, but it’s slowly increasing,” Dr. Crane explains.

The doctor says, now, researchers and doctors are looking to see if coronavirus poses an increased risk to World Trade Center patients.

“You'll have the nurse reviewing your usual health history, but also a number of questions about COVID. The same things: what happened? How ill were you, etcetera – and that's going to be collected now going forward,” Dr. Crane said.

His advice to his patients is to get a flu shot and try to stay healthy and out of the hospital in case there is a second wave of cases.

“That is really critical at a time when, if COVID comes back, people might be admitted to the ICU, we don't want that, so get the flu shot, it lowers the risk,” the doctor says.

Researchers are also looking for any possible link between World Trade Center exposure and autoimmune diseases, as well as Alzheimer's. So far results have been inconclusive but, researchers will continue to study possible links.

And 19 years later, Dr. Crane remains gravely concerned about depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The doctor says his advice to patients is: “There is help out there, reach out, don't be afraid.”