It’s been 15 years since the 9/11 terror attacks, but the death toll connected to the event continues to climb as illnesses related to chemicals at ground zero are set to pass the number of people killed in the attacks.
In the next five years, the number of people dying from exposure to toxic dust and debris released at ground zero will exceed the number killed the day of the attack, 9/11 health committee chairman Dr. Jim Melius told The Guardian.
“Within the next five years we will be at the point where more people have died from World Trade Center-related illnesses than died from the immediate impact of the attacks.”
On that fateful day in September, 15 years ago, America watched in horror as plumes of toxic smoke drifted through Manhattan covering the city with poisonous dust and contaminating the Hudson River.
As 9/11 first responders struggled to pull survivors from the rubble of the twin towers, the Environmental Protection Agency told New Yorkers their air was safe to breathe and their water was safe to drink, reports the Huffington Post.
“[The] public in these areas are not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances.”
Now, the former head of the EPA, Christine Whitman, has admitted she was wrong to make that statement in an apology to those exposed to the deadly toxins released at ground zero, according to The Guardian.
“I’m very sorry that people are sick. I’m very sorry that people are dying and if the EPA and I in any way contributed to that, I’m sorry. We did the very best we could at the time with the knowledge we had.”
Melius, who heads a government health program for 9/11 first responders and is a member of a health advocacy group is warning America of a growing post-9/11 health crisis, reports the Independent.
“We are already seeing many more premature deaths occurring, and among younger people, from the cancers. There is going to be a new generation of widows and widowers.”
More than 37,000 people have officially been recognized as sick and more than 1,000 have died from exposure to the toxic chemicals released into the air and water when the two towers collapsed.
The pile of rubble at ground zero contained toxic concentrations of asbestos, lead, glass, heavy metals, oil, poisonous gases, and jet fuel.
In 2010, after a lengthy political battle, congress finally passed a bill to pay for the health care costs of 9/11 first responders known as the Zadroga Act; it was extended to cover lifetime care for the emergency personnel in 2015.
In 2011, the government established the World Trade Center Health Program, which now has 75,000 registered members, most of whom worked on rescue and recovery efforts at ground zero, the rest are New York residents. Some 1,140 people in the group have already died from 9/11 related health problems.
As the country remembers those 2,996 victims tragically killed on 9/11, some protestors are calling for another memorial to those who died later from exposure to toxic chemicals to be built near where the towers stood.
Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer wrote to New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey governor Chris Christie in 2014 asking them to approve such a monument.
She still hasn’t received a formal response, but Brewer told The Guardian that she hopes to have the monument completed before next year. She is calling for a competition to design the monument to commemorate those who have died and comfort those still living.
“It needs to be universal.”
Should there be a formal monument to those killed by exposure to the toxic chemicals at ground zero?
[Photo by Fabina Sbina/Hugh Zareasky/Getty Images]