On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders rushed selflessly into ground zero to fight for the lives of civilians. In the weeks and months that followed, responders would continue to work at the site as they searched for and repaired what they could. 

As responders jumped into action to serve others, what was overlooked was how the conditions at ground zero may affect their own health. 

As of 2018, more than 10,000  9/11 first responders have been diagnosed with illness and cancer that connect to the conditions at ground zero, and that number is expected to increase as our country moves closer to the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. 

The sickness and cancers affecting police officers, firefighters, EMTs and civilians are connected to the asbestos, steel, lead and glass fibers that created a fog of dust in the air that lingered days and weeks after Sept. 11. When inhaled, the mixture of toxic particles cause respiratory diseases, internal scarring and asbestos-related cancers of the lung and abdomen

The epidemic resulted in federally funded programs meant to support victims of 9/11 who deal with long-term injuries or who may develop disease or cancer over time. One such fund is the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act that Congress ruled into law in 2010. The problem is these funds are running out, and the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act is set to expire in 2020 if not renewed by Congress. 

Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart has been a long time advocate for first responders and the Victim Compensation Fund and has been speaking out again to work with lawmakers to ensure the fund doesn’t get left in the past. Especially due to the long latency period for asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer, signs of illness might not develop until 20-50 years after exposure. 

This year will mark 18 years since the terrorist attacks, and the movement to have the Victim Compensation Act extended for 9/11 responders has already begun. It will be congress-people from across the country who could sign a new bill into law that will support victims who now live nationwide. 

As Americans, it’s now our responsibility to protect the health of the public servants who ran into the fires 18 years ago, to never forget the victims who lost their lives on that day and to advocate for the lives still being impacted. 

Americans everywhere can truly make a difference for these men and women by calling their representatives and sharing information and support for those in their community. To contact your congressional representatives and senators, call your representative at 202-224-312,  and visit www.renew911health.org to lend support. 

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