"Because those responding in the first hours were stuck in the dust cloud, these were the people with the highest rate of every disease we tracked," says Dr. Philip Landrigan, Dean of Global Health at Mount Sinai School of medicine and senior researcher of one of Thursday's studies. The study, which looked at medical and mental health outcomes for about 30,000 rescue workers involved in 9/11 aid work, found that nearly a third of these workers have developed asthma and between 10 and 30 percent still suffer from persistent medical disorders, including gastro-esophageal reflux, depression and PTSD, even nine years after they were exposed to the WTC site.
Though researchers expected to see some persistence in medical and mental health symptoms for these workers, Landrigan says the extent to which they are still suffering was an "unwelcome surprise."
"We're still seeing 75 to 100 new patients each month, even after all these years," he says. Landrigan urges those who worked at the WTC to seek examination at one of New York City's WTC Centers for Excellence -- hospitals that provide specialized testing and treatment for those with physical and mental health conditions associated with 9/11.
Thanks to the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, signed into law by President Obama in January, rescue workers can receive financial assistance for health problems such as those identified in Landrigan's study. At this time, however, the act does not cover cancer, as a federal analysis decided there was not enough evidence to say that 9/11 work contributed to cancer risk at that time.
Feal and other 9/11 workers' advocates hope that the results of Thursday's New York firefighter's study will convince policymakers to reverse that decision and provide funding for medical bills and compensation to those rescue workers suffering from cancer post 9/11.
"We can't take away the exposure [to carcinogens] on 9/11, but cancer prevention and cancer screening is a must," says David Prezant, co-author on the firefighter study and chief medical officer of the New York City Fire Department. "This study is a wake up call."
"Because cancer usually takes many year to develop, it may be too soon to confirm that these cancers are due to WTC exposure," says Dr. Richard Besser, senior health and medical editor at ABC News. "It isn't too soon to ensure that early screening is in place and that cancer prevention efforts are in full force."