This week marked the twenty-second anniversary of the coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamist extremist group known as al-Qaeda that killed 2,977 Americans. Even with the perspective afforded by the passage of time, it is hard to believe that four commercial airplanes scheduled to fly from the East Coast to California were commandeered and turned into weapons of mass destruction.
One of the most significant features of this catastrophic event is that, after twenty-two years, innocent Americans are still getting sick and dying. In a New York Times article dated September 9, 2023, and titled “9/11 Survivors Are Still Getting Sick Decades Later: ‘Am I Next?’, reporters Hilary Swift and Corey Kilgannon write the following:
“Immediately after the twin towers fell, the roughly 90,000 firefighters, paramedics, police officers and others who selflessly rushed to the scene were hailed as heroes. But over the years, as the public’s attention waned, health problems, like cancer, respiratory illnesses and other ailments, remained and have continued to emerge.
“By some estimates, more than 400,000 people in Lower Manhattan, including those who lived, worked and studied there, were exposed to toxic material from the pulverized towers, leading to health issues that were diagnosed many years later.
“Of the 111,005 ground zero responders and survivors enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program, 4,610 have died, according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although the program does not collect information on cause of death, some health officials believe many died from Sept. 11-related illnesses — and that the toll is in fact higher, given the likelihood that many people have died who were not enrolled in the program and did not know their illness was Sept. 11-related.
“Most responders have registered for federal medical coverage and settlements. But only a small fraction of civilians affected by the toxins have done so. Many are unaware that they are able to, or even that the illnesses they are suddenly experiencing years after 2001 may be a result of the lethal dust and smoke of the smoldering rubble where the towers stood.”
In another NY Times article that appeared on September 11, 2023, titled “Somber 9/11 Ceremony Draws Mourners to Ground Zero,” reporter Clair Fahy wrote that “the number of emergency workers with the Fire Department who died from illnesses related to the attacks almost exceeds the number of firefighters who died in the line of duty that day. According to the Uniformed Firefighters Association, 341 firefighters, paramedics and other Fire Department employees have died from cancers and other illnesses linked to the toxic dust at ground zero. The number of firefighters who died on Sept. 11 was 343.”
So when we reflect on the human suffering and loss of life that occurred on September 11, 2001, we must not overlook the continued suffering, chronic illnesses, and loss of life that Americans are experiencing in 2023 and are likely to experience for decades to come.
This anniversary is also a reminder that America is influenced by and may be made vulnerable by events occurring many thousands of miles away. Anyone who looks at world events across the oceans and on other continents and concludes that ‘it’s not our problem; let’s address the problems here at home’ is a person who has failed to grasp the lessons of September 11, 2001.
Hon. Peter W. Agnes, Jr. (Ret.)
Chief Executive Officer, Flaschner Judicial Institute