Thirteen years ago today the United States of America was attacked by terrorists whose hate left gaping holes not only in the New York City skyline, but in our hearts. Few survived the collapse of the twin towers, and by September 12 all remaining survivors had been found. All that was left of the World Trade Center was a massive pile of rubble. The clean-up was a painstaking effort that lasted until May the following year. The thousands of workers involved in the clean-up swallowed their grief, or maybe-hopefully, they channeled it into the exhausting work ahead of them. It was work that would never leave them; they would carry it home with them after long emotionally draining days. Little did they know that many of them also carried it in their hearts, their blood, and their lungs, and that the toxins they were exposed to would revisit them as ugly diseases later.
For 99 days fires burned at Ground Zero, fires that carried harmful fumes. In the days immediately after 9/11 only approximately 20 percent of the Ground Zero workers wore masks that would protect them from the hazardous toxins in the air. A Science Daily report stated that “New York City firemen and emergency personnel exposed to dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings experienced a decrease in lung function capability equal to 12 years of age-related decline during the year following the 9/11 disaster.”
Workers were exposed to cement dust, exhaust, asbestos, silica, glass fibers and benzene. Reports show that many workers as a result have developed silicosis, lung cancer, kidney problems, leukemia and heart disease. James Zadroga, a New York City Police Department officer was there at Ground Zero, he participated in the rescue and recovery operations. He died in 2006 of respiratory disease, at age 35. His was the first death attributed to the hazards workers were exposed to at Ground Zero. In 2006 the Governor of New York signed the James Zadroga Act into legislation, which would expand death benefits to workers who die as a result from their exposure while doing recovery work at Ground Zero.
Today, we remember those we lost to the attacks on New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., thirteen years ago. And we also remember the heroes who were there in the days after, risking their health and their lives in the recovery efforts.