The number of people known to have died from exposure to toxins at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks will soon surpass the number of people killed when the Twin Towers crumpled 17 years ago today.

But according to Iris Udasin, the principal investigator of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program on the Rutgers Piscataway campus, the actual death toll since 9/11 may have even already surpassed the death toll from the terror attacks themselves.

“We probably missed other people that were diagnosed before we had this additional funding for treatment,” she said.

The Rutgers facility is one of five federally funded healthcare centers operating in the region, and the only one in New Jersey.

More than 10,000 patients exposed to debris at the site are now being treated for different types of cancer and other serious lung diseases, and the number of people who die from these illnesses is starting to increase, Udasin said.

“We believe the reason why we’re seeing this increase in cancer is that many of the cancers have a latency period of 15 to 20 years," she said.

She said not surprisingly, if you assess a 60-year-old police officer from New Jersey who responded to the pile on 9/11, “their rate of cancer would be much higher than a 60 year old who was just a normal, average everyday person who was living in New Jersey.”

“There were all kinds of toxic gases and people who were exposed to all the cement dust were susceptible to a lot of these dangerous, potentially cancer causing agents," she said.

Udasin says her work can be exhausting and depressing -- but not always.

“I saw one of my patients with head and neck cancer and I got him to the right person, and he had a rough two years but now he’s doing better and gaining weight,” she said. “Some days it’s uplifting and some days it’s depressing but at least I feel like I’m doing something important.”

She’s expecting the program to continue for at least another 25 years.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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