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More cops have died from 9/11-related illnesses than on the scene at Ground Zero

Published time: May 07, 2014 17:30
Edited time: May 10, 2014 08:28
A police car sits amid rubble near the base of the destroyed World Trade Center towers in New York on September 11, 2001. (Reuters / Peter Morgan)

A police car sits amid rubble near the base of the destroyed World Trade Center towers in New York on September 11, 2001. (Reuters / Peter Morgan)

More police officers have now died as a result of illnesses blamed on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks than the number of cops killed during the actual event as the tragedy unfolded 12-and-a-half years ago.

On Tuesday this week, 20 new names were added to the New York State Police Officers' Memorial in Albany, NY, including 13 individuals who died in recent years due to 9/11-related illnesses. The Associated Press reported that authorities attribute those 13 deaths to cancers caused by rescue and recovery efforts in Lower Manhattan after the World Trade Center collapsed more than a decade ago.

All told, the memorial in the New York state capital now contains the names of 71 officers who died due to 9/11-related illnesses. The actual terrorist attack itself claimed the lives of 60 cops, and nearly 3,000 civilians.

"I live near the World Trade Center. I inhaled the toxic smoke that permeated every square inch of lower Manhattan," New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said at Tuesday’s ceremony, the AP reported. "I know how nobly and heroically the NYPD carried out their duties on that tragic September day and the terrible days that followed."

A quarter of the names added to the memorial this week, the Troy Record reported, were of cops killed in line-of-duty injuries suffered on the job. The majority of the new names, however, are of police officers who persevered for years after the 9/11 attacks while living with fatal illnesses attributed to the debris at Ground Zero.

“We cannot have a safe state without the sacrifice of our police officers,” Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy said at the ceremony, according to the Record.

A total of 1,360 officers from New York state law enforcement agencies have their names on the memorial in Albany, which reads: “It doesn’t matter from which department they came, the feeling of loss is experienced the same.” With regards to the 13 new names added as a result of 9/11-related illnesses, a dozen were members of the New York City Police Department and one was a cop for law enforcement in Peekskill, NY.

Charles J. Wassil of the Peekskill Police Department died May 1, 2013 of illnesses he incurred while working at Ground Zero. He was only 52, but spent his last years advocating for healthcare coverage for other first responders, the Daily Voice reported shortly after his death.

“The next time something happens, guys are going to think twice,” Wassil said in 2011 at a ceremony held on the tenth anniversary of the attacks. “They’ll say, ‘Why should I go there if the United States is going to turn their back on me if I get sick?’”

“If you’re looking at guys who are 30 or 40 years old who spent so many hours at Ground Zero and are coming down with cancer, it doesn’t take a scientist to see that something was wrong down there,” Wassil said at the time. “Federal studies say a lot of things. They tell you a vitamin is good for you and they two years later they’ll say you shouldn’t have taken it.”

Earlier this year — more than 12 years after the attacks occurred — the United States Department of Health and Human Services program that provides care to first-responders injured during the terrorist attacks expanded coverage to victims with four types of cancer previously not considered, including brain cancer, pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer and invasive cervical cancer.