New York Fire Department Lt. Howard Bischoff, 58, and firefighters Robert Leaver, 56, and Daniel Heglund, 58, all died from cancer within hours of each other on Monday. The three retired men had worked at the World Trade Center site following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The deaths of Bischoff, Leaver, and Heglund "are a painful reminder that 13 years later we continue to pay a terrible price for the department's heroic efforts," Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a statement. One of the men had esophageal cancer, another had colon cancer, and the third had leukemia.
As The Associated Press reports, thousands of people who were part of the rescue and recovery effort and breathed in toxic air have suffered from respiratory ailments and other health issues. Hundreds have been diagnosed with cancer since Sept. 11, but doctors say that because cancer is the leading cause of death among Americans between their mid-40s and mid-60s, they are unsure if there is a link between Sept. 11 and these illnesses.
Activists are asking Congress to reauthorize the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides monetary compensation and medical treatment for people who are ill after being exposed to the gritty air, which contained pulverized pieces of building materials, furniture, electronics, and more. On Sept. 11, 343 firefighters from the Fire Department of New York died, and the department believes that 89 firefighters — not including Bischoff, Leaver, or Heglund — died because of illnesses caused by the toxic dust.