9/11 death toll

NICK EICHER, HOST: Seventeen years ago today, on another crisp Tuesday morning, acts of terror against the United States by 19 men affiliated with al-Qaeda forever changed our lives.  

The premeditated attacks killed and maimed thousands of people, all in the name of militant Sunni Islam.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: New York City rebuilt, and life went on. But the damage did not stop accumulating. And it may not for years to come. WORLD Radio’s Kristen Flavin brings us this report.

AUDIO: Newsreel footage of 9/11

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: When terrorists steered two planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, nearly 10,000 first responders arrived at the scene that Tuesday morning …

AUDIO: Sound of walkie-talkies

Of those 10,000, almost 500 died.

GONZALES: Today we honor men and women from law enforcement, firefighting, and emergency medical services. Men and women who lived and died upholding America’s highest ideals on September 11, 2001. 442 public servants died as heroes that day. They live in our memory.

The official 9/11 death toll is 2,977.

But 17 years later, that number is still rising. And it’s still rising because of those first responders and others who were in the area. They were exposed to chemicals like asbestos, burning jet fuel, burning computer parts, pulverized concrete, and glass. The toxic mix spread throughout the city in a cloud of dust that hung in the air for days after the attacks.

So far officials have attributed an additional 2,000 deaths to illnesses linked to 9/11. And medical experts say the worst is yet to come.

Many first responders have been diagnosed with respiratory illnesses like asthma. Some developed lung disease. Doctors are also concerned about mesothelioma resulting from an estimated 400 tons of asbestos released into the air.  

John Howard is the director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

HOWARD: When you think about the amount of dust containing all of these various carcinogens that these thousands of individuals breathed, it makes scientific sense that this could damage the body.

The most serious risk may be cancer. First responders face up to a 30 percent higher risk of developing cancer than the average American—especially blood cancer, kidney cancer, and prostate cancer.

But what has doctors most concerned is the latency of some cancers and the number of New York City residents that came in contact with toxic dust. They estimate that about 90,000 residents were exposed.

In some cases, cancer symptoms can remain dormant for years—even decades. Now death rates are increasing.

It can be hard to tell whether a cancer is linked to 9/11 dust exposure. But, as Howard explains, doctors know to look for indicators.

HOWARD: What we look for are small signals: Is this particular cancer more common? Is there any kind of a signal that it’s more common in our 9/11-exposed population than it is in the general population?

By the 20th anniversary of the attacks, it’s likely more people will have died from 9/11-related illnesses than those who died on the day of the attacks.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Kristen Flavin.

(Mark Lennihan/Associated Press) Firefighters work beneath the vertical struts of the World Trade Center’s twin towers, in Lower Manhattan, following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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