A study by Stony Brook University researchers found that Ground...

A study by Stony Brook University researchers found that Ground Zero first responders with cognitive impairment in conjunction with PTSD are at risk for a new form of dementia. Credit: Newsday/Viorel Florescu

The alarming results of a recent Stony Brook University study that found 9/11 first responders are developing dementia at a far higher rate than the general population remind us yet again of the expanding, tragic impact of the 2001 terror attacks and the toxic dust that emanated from Ground Zero.

The study showed that 228 of 5,000 first responders studied developed dementia over a five-year period. Experts would expect the diagnosis in only five of 5,000 similarly aged people in the general population. The average age of those studied was 53.

The study on its own isn't enough to draw definitive conclusions; we'll need more research. But it does indicate how much more work remains to understand what is still happening to the thousands of men and women who spent days, weeks and months breathing in the toxic mix of twisted metal, plastic, fiberglass, asbestos and more, while also helping them through their health crises.

The World Trade Center Health Program is paramount both for providing care for first responders and others who lived or worked near Ground Zero and funding critical research like the Stony Brook study. It remains concerning that the program still suffers a deficit that approaches $3 billion. That gap will continue until federal officials provide funds to fully close it and, importantly, change the program's funding formula.

New York's congressional delegation, led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Andrew Garbarino, thankfully has pushed for those fixes and for additional funding, but too often they've had to settle for piecemeal, temporary patches that only put off the problem. This year, however, could mark an opportune moment to make the program permanent, close the gaps, and adjust the formula. Long Island's Republican congressmen, including Garbarino and Reps. Anthony D'Esposito and Nick LaLota, have the ear of House Speaker Mike Johnson, whose father was a firefighter burned in the line of duty, and Schumer still has control of the Senate.

Our local representatives must continue their work to bring the yearslong battle over the Health Program to an end. First responders and others are still growing ill; they're still dying. We must not get to the point where they again have to traipse the halls of the Capitol, begging for health care and research dollars. Not every condition should or can be covered. But that's why studies like Stony Brook's are necessary.

As time passes, memories dim. The 9/11 terror attacks and grim months that followed are no longer always at the forefront of our minds — or those of our congressional representatives. But we must not forget what our first responders went through and are experiencing now. Funding and solidifying the World Trade Center Health Program for good will allow us to understand the ongoing effects of the toxic air they breathed, while also caring for them — now and in the future.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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