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9/11 First Responder Dies of Mesothelioma from Asbestos Exposure

Amid the toxic fumes at Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Nick and Margaret Ursta had just one face mask to filter contaminants in the air, so they took turns wearing it.

The Urstas had traveled from Pittsburgh with a crew of fellow first responders from the White Oak Rescue Squad, and they spent three days volunteering at a makeshift triage area in Lower Manhattan.

“Oh, my goodness, dust was everywhere,” Margaret Ursta told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “And asbestos was everywhere, as we would learn later. Oh, my God, the smell was terrible – burning flesh and the smell of fuel. It was so horrible.”

There was a lot of confusion immediately after the attacks, with fires burning and people searching for missing loved ones. The single mask that the Urstas would share wasn’t given to them until their second day of volunteering.

Still, the Urstas and other first responders did what they could to assist as the massive rescue, recovery and clean-up efforts began.

Fast forward 16 years later. That’s when Nick Ursta began to feel ill. Nick was renovating a house he and Margaret had purchased and he began grappling with lung congestion that he thought might be a case of pneumonia. His medical provider performed three separate procedures to drain fluid from his left lung.

In January 2018, however, Nick was diagnosed with mesothelioma. This is an aggressive and rare cancer of the lung’s lining that is caused by exposure to asbestos, which was one of the contaminants that permeated the air after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Nick Ursta died on October 29, and officials at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said that his cancer was 9/11-related, Margaret told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Even though this kind of cancer only affects about 3,000 individuals each year, medical experts say mesothelioma could soon become more prevalent.

“I think you will probably see double or tripling of the number of lung cancers in people who were in NYC on 9/11 and mesothelioma and people dying of pleural fibrosis from asbestosis,” said Dr. Raja Flores, Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the Mount Sinai Hospital, as reported in nine.com.au.

Those diagnosed with 9/11-related cancers contend with daunting medical expenses. But they may qualify for assistance through both the World Trade Center Health Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which was signed into law in 2019 to ensure that money would always be available for those who qualify for benefits.

Signing up for the Victim Compensation Fund may seem overwhelming, but Turley Hansen & Rosasco, LLP can help make the process easier for 9/11 survivors who reach out to any of its attorneys.

Experts say that of the 76,000 September 11 first responders, 9,500 have been diagnosed with a 9/11-related cancer, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And while 3,500 were treatable skin cancers, experts say some cancers take decades to develop, and are only now being reported. These include lung cancer and mesothelioma, triggered by debris and dust from carcinogens such as asbestos. It should be noted that many years ago, asbestos was used to fireproof buildings until it was proven to be a health hazard. And according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, as many as 300 to 400 tons of asbestos were used to fireproof the north tower of the World Trade Center.

As a result of the figures and information listed above, asbestos-related cancers are on the radar of doctors everywhere. “I hope this will remain occasional and very rare, but we are all concerned about that pathway to lung cancer and mesothelioma,” Michael Crane, medical director of the World Trade Center Health Program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s something we must keep an eye on.”

To learn more about registering with the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund – regardless of whether or not you are sick – please contact our 9/11 lawyers to get started. We can also assist you in the process of getting your condition certified with the World Trade Center Health Program.