9/11 First Responders Are Still Dying

Last week, we discussed compensation legislation that benefits 9/11 first responders and survivors and the most recent bill passed in 2019—The Never Forget  the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act. This law extends compensation and healthcare funding for 9/11 first responders and survivors until 2090, but many people may not recognize the necessity of such an extension. Why do 9/11 emergency workers and survivors need long-term funding?

The answer is: the pervasive toxic dust from the World Trade Center (WTC) collapse has only begun causing severe illnesses and cancer in 9/11 first responders and survivors.

The illnesses and cancers caused by 9/11 dust exposure can take 20 years or more to manifest, and today marks the 18 year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. Dr. Michael Crane, director of the World Trade Center Health Program Clinical Center, has expressed concern about rising cancer rates among those exposed to WTC dust. Speaking about asbestos-related cancers, Dr. Crane recently told NBC News, “It’s time for them to start appearing.”

Noteworthy 9/11 Numbers

99: # of days the WTC fires burned
200: # of firefighters who have died from 9/11-related illnesses*
411: # of first responders who died in the WTC collapse
23,000: # of lower Manhattan apartments eligible for asbestos cleanup
422,000: # of New Yorkers estimated to suffer from 9/11-related PTSD

*This number will change as more firefighters succumb to 9/11 related cancers.

Anyone could easily get lost in the statistics, but many of these numbers represent people with families and stories. As a way of celebrating the lives and stories of first responders, we’ve profiled three people who spent time at the WTC but succumbed to the toxic effects of 9/11 dust years later.

9/11 First Responder Advocate Luis Alvarez

Luis Alvarez spent months helping with the recovery and cleanup efforts at the World Trade Center, but his tireless service extended far beyond that time. Born in Cuba, Alvarez enlisted in the Marines straight out of high school and joined the New York Police Department in 1990. Though he spent most of his police career in the narcotics division, Alvarez became a detective on the NYPD bomb squad before retiring in 2010.

In 2016, Alvarez received a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, a condition attributed to his time at the WTC. In interviews, Detective Alvarez reminded the public that his service at Ground Zero was not unique. He emphasized the monumental contributions of thousands of others, just like him, whose health and longevity were threatened by the toxic dust and debris from the WTC’s collapse.

Despite the physical toll of chemotherapy, he used his time and energy to advocate for reauthorization of the Zadroga Act. Earlier this year, Detective Alvarez spoke before Congress, alongside John Stewart, urging them to put aside politics and do the right thing for 9/11 first responders and survivors.

Luis Alvarez went into hospice care just days after testifying to Congress, and he passed away on June 29, 2019. President Trump signed The Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act into law just weeks later.

Keith Young

Keith Young loved cooking. He attended culinary school before joining the New York Fire Department (FDNY) in 1998, and his firehouse cooking earned him the nickname “Firehouse Chef.”

On the day of the attacks, Young worked at the Midwood, Brooklyn fire station. He participated in the months-long recovery effort after the towers collapsed.

In the years after 9/11, Young’s passion for cooking led him to appearances on The Rachael Ray Show, Chopped, and Throwdown! with Bobby Flay. He also published Cooking With the Firehouse Chef, a cookbook based on his firehouse culinary endeavors. According to his children, Keith Young’s personality and cooking made him the life of any party.

Young received a diagnosis of synovial carcinoma, a rare cancer attributed to the toxins he encountered at Ground Zero. The diagnosis came in 2015, just three years after Young’s wife, Beth, passed away from breast cancer.

Keith Young succumbed to his 9/11 cancer in June 2018, just before he was scheduled to pitch his Cup Board Pro cutting board on Shark Tank. Producers allowed his children to pitch the Cup Board Pro instead, and they received an offer from all five sharks. The Young children sold out of their first production run and plan to keep their father’s legacy alive by continuing to manufacture and sell his unique cutting board.

Paul Tokarski

Paul Tokarski joined the FDNY in 1991 and dedicated a total of 22 years to service as a fireman. He spent more than one month helping with recovery and cleanup at the WTC. His daughter, Kole, was just two years old at the time.

Tokarski found himself at his daughter’s hospital bed years later. At 11 years old, Kole Tokarski had come down with a mystery illness, one requiring a surgery that doctors estimated she had a 50% chance of surviving. Paul Tokarski stood watch at his daughter’s side as she battled through the surgery only to end up in a coma.

Weeks later, doctors finally determined Kole had a rare autoimmune condition. Once the proper treatment was administered, Paul Tokarski finally saw his daughter wake from her coma. He then supported her through the lengthy recovery and rehabilitation period.

Firefighter Tokarski retired from the FDNY in late 2012. Doctors diagnosed him with brain cancer in 2016, and he passed away just two years later. Tokarski’s exposure to WTC dust may have caused his brain cancer. Regardless of the cause, his daughter Kole lost her father to a possibly WTC- related illness at just 19 years old.

Assistance for 9/11 Heroes and Their Families

As fellow Americans, we at Consumersafety.org salute the brave men and women who rescued, recovered and revitalized in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Their service cannot be repaid, but the government does provide financial assistance and healthcare coverage for 9/11 first responders and survivors. You can find additional information about those programs by clicking the appropriate link below.

9/11 Victim Compensation Fund >>
9/11 Victim Compensation Fund FAQ >>

Authored by Katy Moncivais, Ph.D.Medical Editor
Photo of Katy Moncivais, Ph.D.
Katy Moncivais holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. She’s an experienced Regenerative Medicine Consultant with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & healthcare industry. Skilled in adult stem cells, medical devices, biomechanics, bacterial and mammalian cell culture, and regenerative medicine, she provides guidance on an array of topics affecting consumers. In her role at ConsumerSafety.org, Dr. Moncivais works alongside the writing and research staff to help deliver fact-based news stories to consumers. Her unique professional history alongside her rigorous educational background allows her to contribute to a variety of consumer-focused topics with a fresh perspective. In addition, Dr. Moncivais reviews portions of medically driven content to ensure scientific accuracy.
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