51-year-old first responder Nick Ursta recently passed away of lung cancer that doctors have linked to exposure at Ground Zero during the 9/11 attacks.
Ursta’s wife Margaret, who was also a first responder on 9/11, says that the Ground Zero site was filled with dust, burning flesh, jet fuel, and what she’d later learn was asbestos. Unfortunately, face masks were sparse that day, the Urstas were sharing one, leading to much exposure of the harmful chemicals at the site.
Ursta was diagnosed last year with mesothelioma, a rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, typically related to asbestos exposure.
The site at ground zero led to the exposure of over 24,000 gallons of jet fuel. The jet fuel led to a fire that also took over 100,000 tons of wreckage, 13,000 gallons of transformer oil, and over 100,000 gallons of heating and diesel oils. Several vehicles burned in underground lots were also releasing toxins into the air. The entire site became a poisonous mess filled with dust, metals, ad volatile acids. All volunteers and workers rescuing people and cleaning up the mess were exposed to dust from cement, glass fibers, asbestos, and other toxins and hazardous materials.
As a result of this exposure, an entire medical program is dedicated to tracking health issues of those who were at the site. The program is run through the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, and it’s called the World Trade Center Health Program. Dr. Michael Crane, the program’s medical director at Mount Sinai Hospital, says that Ursta’s case will likely be the first of many.
So far, 9,500 of 76,000 first responders at 9/11 have been diagnosed with a type of cancer related to ground zero toxins. The impacts of exposure range from dangerous cancers to digestive and musculoskeletal disorders. Mesothelioma usually appears decades after exposure, so Dr. Crane was surprised to see it so soon. He thought it would be another 10 years before the first case.
Ursta’s wife described him as an “amazing man who will be highly missed.” His wife said “there never will be anyone else like him.” Margaret was also exposed to the dangerous toxins at ground zero, and she’s not the only first responder who carries the burden of the potential health problems she could develop.
A true hero, Nick Ursta is among the first responders who say “they’d do it all again,” no matter the cost.