More than 5,000 cancer diagnoses have been linked to the toxic debris left behind after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack -- and at least a dozen former students at lower Manhattan high schools say they are among those affected.
The students at several schools around ground zero said they are now filing claims with the federal government to receive assistance from the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund after being diagnosed with a bevy of cancers and other illnesses uncommon in most young people in the 16 years since the attack.
One of those former students is Michele Lent Hirsch, who went to the elite Stuyvesant High School less than a half mile from the Twin Towers. She was a senior on the day of the attack and still recalls the "acrid, chemical smell" of lower Manhattan when she went back to school in the weeks following the attack.
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And within the next decade, she would develop thyroid cancer -- one of the cancers covered under the Victim's Compensation Fund, according to the New York Post, which first reported on the students.
"I was only 25 when I was diagnosed," she said.
Hirsch, now 32, went through treatment and is in remission. But she said that she'll need to take daily medication for the rest of her life. She said she and the others filing claims want to raise awareness for other former students who may not even know why they are now sick.
"There are federal programs and they're not just for first responders," she said.
Michael Barasch, an attorney representing Hirsch and the other former students and teachers, told the Post that doctors called the diagnoses a "cancer cluster."
“A 28-year-old girl should have not breast cancer. A 29-year-old boy should not have colon cancer or bladder cancer," he told the newspaper.
New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the city Department of Education is "monitoring the response people are getting."
"We're investigating this," she said.