TAMPA - Thousands of first responders -- police, fire and volunteers -- rushed to Ground Zero after the attack on September 11, 2001. Some stayed for months.
Over the next several years, many of them argued that toxins from the World Trade Center rubble gave them cancer.
Local residents who were in or near the twin towers on that fateful day say it's about time the government recognizes cancer as an illness connected to the toxic dust they breathed in.
Rich Miccio helped place a wreath next to a 911 memorial outside Tampa's Steinbrenner Field. But almost 11 years ago, his connection to 911 was much different -- he was running for his life from a gray cloud of what he calls toxic dust - the remnants of the north tower as it collapsed. “It blew me down and I had a limited amount of air in my tank. Visibility was down to zero because the cloud passed me by. I crawled on my hands and knees for a quarter of a mile where I was finally able to get some clear air.”
But Rich, like other first responders, went back and kept working. “The dust never settled. The fires burned for 100 days on the ground. We ate it, we breathed it, we ingested it. The Red Cross would come and give us soup and it would have all the dust on it.”
Rich had to retire due to breathing problems that followed.
Under one component of the 911 Health and Compensation Act, about 40,000 responders, including Rich, get free monitoring. Some receive medical treatment.
But the second part, the victim compensation fund, is reportedly being held up by the issue of whether cancer can be connected to 9/11. Now the government is expected to recognize the cancer link.
Rich says it's about time. “I just lost a friend I worked with for 20 years. He worked in the fire house and he passed last month of cancer and he was dead in three months. Another guy right down the road from our fire house and another from another fire house. So it’s happening more and more.”
Joseph Holland agrees. He spent days in the dust looking for his son who perished - and now he says he has cancer. “It just came up four years ago and I firmly believe, I firmly believe the city, state and federal government has waited too long to do anything about the rescuers, cops, everyone down there. People are dying left and right and they've got nothing.”
Based on new evidence the federal government is expected to announce any day that about 50 new cancers will be covered by a $2.77 billion settlement fund set up for victims.
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