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Mesothelioma threatens Twin Towers workers 15 years later

Last week, our country stopped to remember and thank those who helped New York recover and rebuild after the September 11 attacks. Along with the lingering emotional effects, some of these brave first responders and volunteers are dealing with physical affects from the prevalence of asbestos, including mesothelioma.

Asbestos in the World Trade Center

During the cleanup, it was discovered that there was over 400 tons of asbestos that came from the Twin Towers, which formed a giant toxic cloud. Although not every person who is exposed to asbestos will be diagnosed with mesothelioma, some who are briefly exposed can contract the very rare disease. Others can exist around asbestos throughout their life and never contract mesothelioma.

Official numbers on asbestos-related cases have not yet been released, but the World Trade Center Health Program has seen over 5,000 people for cancers related to September 11 and the resulting cleanup. That number will likely increase in the future, however; mesothelioma has a long latency period, which can last 20-50 years after a person is exposed.

Affects of exposure

A study released recently found that firefighters who worked at Ground Zero have a 19 percent increased risk of a cancer diagnosis as opposed to other firefighters. Cancer as well as breathing difficulties and disorders of the digestive system are common side effects of those who were first responders, bystanders and workers cleaning up the debris.

Mount Sinai, the New York hospital specializing in cancer, released a study that found a strong correlation between kidney damage and people who had breathed the toxic air on or around 9/11. Two known cases of mesothelioma connected to September 11 have emerged - one case involving worker Deborah Reeve. She started coughing two weeks after 9/11, and eventually passed away in 2004 after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

What to do if you've been exposed

Again, not every person that's exposed to asbestos will end up with cancers or mesothelioma. But if you know you've been exposed, it's best to get tested as soon as possible. This testing is very comprehensive - it includes CT scans, x-rays and a thoracoscopy. All of these tests are important because mesothelioma is sometimes difficult to properly diagnose.

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