NEW YORK — Three retired firefighters who worked at ground zero have died on the same day from cancer, an illness that many fear might be connected to toxic World Trade Center dust released in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, fire officials said Thursday.
Lieutenant Howard Bisch-off, 58, and firefighters Robert Leaver, 56, and Daniel Heglund, 58, died within hours of one another Monday.
Their deaths 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 prepared statement.
Thousands of people who aided in the rescue and recovery effort were diagnosed with respiratory ailments and other health problems in the years after the attacks. Cancer, though, remains the biggest fear for people exposed to the gritty soot at the site.
Hundreds of first responders have gotten cancer in the 13 years since the attacks, but doctors and researchers are still uncertain whether there is any link to 9/11. Cancer is the leading cause of death for Americans in their mid-40s to mid-60s, making it hard to tell which deaths, if any, might be related. Most medical studies have not found evidence of a substantial surge in cancer rates, though researchers have spotted some worrisome trends.