This Sept. 11 marks 19 years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in my hometown of New York City. Nearly 3,000 people died that day, but many more have since suffered and died from exposure to asbestos and other toxic materials.

Toxins were released in massive amounts when the World Trade Center fell. The rubble left an estimated 410,000 to 525,000 people exposed to myriad carcinogens in the air. These toxins caused first responders and survivors to develop respiratory diseases and cancers that would haunt them decades later.

These men and women risked their lives to save thousands of people in the days and weeks after the attack. The rescue teams and some heroic civilians kept returning to the rubble, looking for ways to save more people. They felt that every minute wasted could’ve been another victim’s last breath.

Since 2001, the residual damage from the World Trade Center attacks has claimed thousands of lives and debilitated even more. Lung cancer, mesothelioma and leukemia are just some of the many cancers covered by the World Trade Center Health Program, which provides medical treatment and monitoring for first responders affected by the devastation.

As we approach two decades removed from the tragedy, a new pattern of medical issues may begin to emerge. The latency period of asbestos-related disease is typically 20 to 50 years, and within the next decade I expect a substantial increase in the number of 9/11-linked mesothelioma cases.