Fifteen FBI agents have died from cancer reportedly linked to toxic exposure from investigations and cleanups during 9/11 — a phenomenon that sometimes feels as if "Bin Laden is still reaching out from the grave," FBI agent Thomas O'Connor said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
As first responders rushed to assist victims in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks 17 years ago, the last thing on their minds were the long-term health implications of the carcinogenic fumes and dust.
"They weren't thinking of the danger, they weren't thinking about their own safety, nor were they concerned for it at that time. They were concerned for the safety of others," said FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich earlier this year, according to CNN.
However, a spate of deaths occurring in recent years from cancers associated with toxic exposure has ripped open the traumas of the horrific terrorist attacks.
"It affects us all in serious ways," said O'Connor. "People are dying, others are sick. Those that are not yet sick wonder, 'Is that headache, is it really cancer? Is that sore hip really cancer?'"
According to The Never Forget Project, an organization dedicated to assisting surviving family members of 9/11 emergency responders, nearly 9,000 firefighters who were exposed to the 9/11 dust may be at greater risk for cancer.
There was also an increase in the rates of prostate cancer, thyroid cancer and the blood cancer multiple myeloma among nearly 34,000 rescue and recovery workers.
More than 7,500 emergency responders, recovery and cleanup workers, and volunteers at the 9/11 crash sites have since been diagnosed with various forms of cancer, the Los Angeles Times reported.
More than 300 firefighters and police officers have died from related cancers and illnesses.
Addressing the rash of cancer-related deaths, FBI Director Christopher Wray said it broke his heart to see more victims succumb to the attack years later.
"They're victims of the 9/11 attacks in a different way," he said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
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