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A heartbreaking milestone haunts this year’s 9/11 anniversary. The NY Post and other media report that 341 FDNY members have now died of Ground Zero-related illnesses, nearly equaling the death toll for other fire fighters that perished in the 2001 terror attack at Ground Zero.

Twenty-two years ago the loss of 343 firefighters was an unimaginable number and sadly the day we pass that milestone is quickly approaching,” Andrew Ansbro, president of the FDNY Uniformed Firefighters Association, said at a news conference Friday. “It is inevitable.”

We’ve attended 40 or so funerals this year for the members that we lost and we know it’s not going to end. So for us it’s every day or every week – but for the general public we have this press conference to remind everyone that it is ongoing and that funding is still needed,” he said.

James Brosi, president of the FDNY Uniformed Fire Officers Association, warned that “we may exceed” the immediate 9/11 death toll “even before the anniversary.” In February, Brosi said he lost his own father, Joseph Brosi, who worked at Engine 88 in the Bronx and battled both lung and bladder cancers after 9/11.

“In the early anniversaries that immediately followed 9/11, our primary focus was on the people we had lost because that was our greatest concern,” Brosi said. “And as the years passed, and as the latency period passed for those illnesses that will now affect us, our concern is shifted not only with the people we lost, but the people we’ve lost since, and the people that are now struggling.”

Exposure to the enormous cloud of toxins, dust and debris that resulted from the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease among first-responder firefighters, according to a recent study published in the JAMA Network.

In this cohort study of 9796 firefighters, age-adjusted incident rates of cardiovascular disease were higher for firefighters with greater World Trade Center exposure. Both acute World Trade Center as well as repeated exposure during 6 or more months at the World Trade Center site appeared to be associated with long-term elevated cardiovascular disease risk.

“The findings of the study suggest a significant association between greater WTC exposure and long-term CVD risk. The findings appear to reinforce the importance of long-term monitoring of the health of survivors of disasters.”

Among the firefighters in the study, “the ones with the greatest exposure – those present in the morning of 9/11 – had a higher risk than those who showed up later in the week,” said Dr. David Prezant, chief medical officer for the Fire Department of the City of New York and a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who was senior author of the new study.

The exposure [among first responders] was really dramatic,explains Dr. Michael Crane, a physician and environmental medicine professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who also is the medical director of a clinic that delivers care to 9/11 first responders. “There were all kinds of carcinogens and combustion products,” Crane says.

The contents of two skyscrapers including concrete, pipes, computers, were pulverized into burning ash laden with lead and other heavy metals. The plume of smoke that could be seen from space. “It was a real witch’s brew,” Crane says.

And another study published in JNCI Cancer Specturm used a study population that consisted of 28 729 members of the General Responder Cohort. A restricted analyses identified 1072 cancers in 999 responders, with elevations in cancer incidence for all cancer sites combined