Celebrated tough cop, Marc Manfro, battles lasting effects of Ground Zero fallout

Former NYPD Police Officer Marc Manfro with a display of his New York City Police Transit Police Distinguished Duty Award presented to Manfro in 1990 on display at his home in Castaic on Friday. Dan Watson

A former NYPD cop who moved to Castaic with celebrity status for seldom being put down by the many bad guys he confronted, gets ready for the fight of his life as the ill-effects of exposure to 9-11’s aftermath threaten to put him down.

Marc Manfro – whose son Steven remains one of the SCV’s all-time-great prep football players at Valencia – goes under the knife Monday at the Providence Tarzana Medical Center in a bid to fix a medical condition that stems from his time assigned to Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks of 9-11.

Former NYPD Police Officer Marc Manfro talks about his days on the force in New York at his home in Castaic on Friday. Dan Watson

Manfro suffered an ailment many of his fellow former cops and other first responders have come to know all too well  – a respiratory condition dubbed World Trade Center Cough. He moved to Southern California in a bid to breathe a little easier.

The respiratory problems, however, led to a strain on his heart.  So much so that the resulting cardiac condition caused him to collapse at least 10 times in the last couple of years.

So, on Monday, surgeons are scheduled to repair Marc Manfro’s heart.

“It’s crazy,” Marc said at his home in Castaic Friday. “That all this is from the 9-11 terrorists.  My health was destroyed.”

It’s a subject Manfro doesn’t like to dwell on when asked.  He’d much rather talk about his sons or his celebrated career working for the New York Police Department.

His father was a cop, his son Steven is now a cop.

But few cops can reflect on the colorful, sometimes controversial career, Marc Manfro carved out for himself during his time in New York City.

Celebrated cop

At one point, producers of the TV show “Top Cops” flew him to Toronto for a filming of an episode about his acclaimed police work.

When he tells his stories of his arrests as a “NYPD’s Top Cop” it isn’t just talk. His home office walls are paneled with proof of his endeavors – at least 60 framed awards, framed citations, frame letters of commendation and, of course, newspaper headlines, including one international story reprinted in Chinese.

The headline of that particular story: “He Took on 50 armed gang members and arrested 22 thugs at one time.”

When he tells the stories now, however, his breathing is labored.  Sometimes he holds the back of his office chair for support in getting the story out.

Former NYPD Police Officer Marc Manfro talks about his days on the force in New York at his home in Castaic on Friday. Dan Watson

World Trade Center Cough was formally recognized by physicians studying the effects of pollutants released in the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings and explained in the medical journal, The Lancet.

WTC Cough

In a special supplement titled: World Trade Center Cough published in The Lancet on Dec. 1, 2002, physicians concluded:  “We felt it was critically important to characterise the particle exposure environment with respect to the chemical nature and health impact of particles that existed immediately after the collapse, and to examine the continuing air quality concerns around the World Trade Center.”

Manfro was officially diagnosed with reactive airways dysfunction syndrome which is defined as the sudden onset of asthma following a high level exposure to a corrosive gas, vapor, or fume.

In the same Lancet supplement, it was reported that the US Environmental Protection Agency collected samples of particulate matter around Ground Zero, including many measurements of ambient asbestos. 

Like many NYPD cops at the time, Manfro was assigned to stand guard at Ground Zero about twice a month.

“I got a headache at the end of every shift,” he said, recalling the experience Friday. “Then I started getting a shortness of breath.”

Ground Zero

“At Ground Zero, you would be walking through six inches of ash – of wood, plastic, all kinds of chemicals,” he said.

Whenever he completed his shift at Ground Zero, he said, he would put all his clothes in a garbage bag to disinfect the clothing.

“I didn’t want them (family members) contaminated,” he said.

Those same family members are now turning their attention and empathy for the big tough cop who always looked out for them, hoping for a positive outcome from Monday’s surgery.

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