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Editorial: Ground Zero death count is still rising

In the days following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the death toll changed with each passing hour. Thirteen years later, it’s still growing. It will continue to do so.

Last week, the New York Post reported that 2,518 ground zero responders – including police officers, firefighters, EMTs and construction workers, among others – have been diagnosed with cancer.

More police officers have died of ground zero-related illnesses than were killed Sept. 11, the Post reported in May.

Several studies have found a link between rates of cancer and exposure to carcinogens at ground zero, including one published last year in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. For the study, 20,984 people who responded to the World Trade Center following the terror attacks were evaluated for cancer from 2001 to 2008. A total of 575 cancers were found in 552 people for a cancer rate 15 percent higher than that of the general population, the study found, with significantly higher rates of thyroid, prostate, lymphoid and soft tissue cancers.

The increased rates are disturbing but hardly surprising. According to the study, responders were exposed to a toxic mix that included benzene, asbestos, silica, cement dust, glass fibers, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium and nickel.

As the degree of ground zero-related illnesses became more and more clear, President Obama signed a law in 2011 that reactivated the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, which had operated from 2001 to 2004. And as of June 30, the fund has paid more than $320 million to 1,145 of the 15,600 people who have filled out eligibility forms.

Among them is a 63-year-old retired New York City fire captain who received a $1.5 million award from the fund, according to the Post. Like the rest of the people approved for compensation, he will receive 10 percent now and the rest in 2016. Cancer will likely take his life before he gets the other 90 percent.

“I knew that day that a lot of us would get sick,” he told the Post.

The fire captain’s plight and that of many others are reminders that the reach of war and terrorism is long and relentless. The calendar can’t offer clean beginnings and endings, and never has. It simply makes it easier to plan parades and ceremonies.

The truth is that for thousands of people, Sept. 11, 2001, is a day of infamy that will end only when their names are added to the death toll.

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