September 12, 2014
By Richard Alles and James Slevin
This week marks the 13th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Here in New York, the names of those killed in the attacks were read aloud by their family members, friends and coworkers. Across the country, Americans gathered at memorials to honor the memories of those who died.
As a nation, we rightly resolved to never forget the attacks. But the truth is, we haven’t entirely kept that promise.
What many Americans may not know is that as the nation recovered, a public health disaster was just beginning to unfold. Thousands are sick because of the attacks, as well as the rescue and recovery operations that continued for months afterward.
We ask Americans to remember all the victims of that terrible day — those who lost their lives, and the thousands of living victims who are sick and dying from illnesses and injuries, some of which have taken years to fully manifest.
We all know the outlines of the story. After 9/11, Americans from all 50 states rushed to Ground Zero to help in any way they could. Thousands of people worked in extremely hazardous conditions, often without proper protective equipment.
As they labored, the site smoldered, and rescue and recovery workers breathed in a toxic stew of chemicals, asbestos, pulverized cement and other health hazards released into the air when the towers fell.
The dust cloud that so unforgettably rolled through lower Manhattan after the attacks settled in homes, offices, buildings and elsewhere — exposing tens of thousands more to the same toxins.
Thirteen years later, more than 30,000 9/11 responders, as well as survivors of the attacks and area residents and workers, have an illness or injury caused by the attacks or their aftermath, and over two-thirds of those have more than one illness.
Many are disabled and can no longer work. They are suffering from a host of chronic diseases: asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease and gastroesophageal reflux disease, to name but a few.
Medical research has identified more than 60 types of cancer caused by 9/11 toxins. At least 2,800 people have been diagnosed with cancers caused or made worse by the aftermath of the attacks, a number that is sure to grow in the years to come.
More than 800 New York Fire Department members and more than 550 New York Police Department personnel are struggling with serious 9/11-related illnesses, many of them cancers, and have had to retire from their jobs for health reasons.
That is in addition to the more than 70 firefighters and 60 NYPD officers who have died from their 9/11-related illnesses.
Memorials and monuments to our losses continue to be built across the country in Arizona, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and elsewhere. This outpouring of commemoration — not just in metal and stone, but in solemn ceremonies and prayer vigils, stair climbs and other events — is important to the American spirit. It is a source of comfort for those who lost loved ones and shows that the nation truly remembers those who lost their lives.
But sadly, there is still little mention that 9/11 is, on a daily basis, impacting the health of thousands of living Americans every day. That needs to change.
We are calling on the organizers of the many 9/11 memorials — governors, mayors, city councils and neighborhood civic groups throughout America — to recognize the living victims of the attacks as well.
Thousands are struggling every day with illnesses or injuries caused by the attacks. These heroes also need your support.
*** Richard Alles is national legislative director with the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. James Slevin is vice president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. Both are members of the 9/11 Health Watch board of directors .