With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 coming up, there's the usual focus on the almost 3,000 people who died, but little is said about the 20,000 with serious illnesses caused by exposure to toxic dust and debris.
The health hazards of two massive skyscrapers collapsing and poisonous material spewing all over the surrounding area should have been obvious, yet thousands of emergency workers, volunteers, local residents, cleaners and other tradespeople went about their business for weeks with very little protection.
Now thousands are suffering from a range of disabling illnesses including asthma, sinusitis, muscular and intestinal conditions, lung diseases and memory problems. Many are unable to work or live a normal life.
Up to 80,000 people were present in the aftermath and new patients are coming forward all the time with previously undiagnosed disorders. People are expected to fall sick for at least another 20 years.
In hindsight, it seems obvious that everyone should have been evacuated from the area and proper decontamination teams sent in to remove all the toxic residue. Yet the dust and debris - which included asbestos, lead and mercury - was generally treated as a mere nuisance rather than a major health emergency.
Alex Sanchez is just one example of this peculiar oversight. He helped clean dust from numerous buildings in Lower Manhattan. In only two buildings was he given even a face mask. Now he has severe breathing difficulties, headaches, gastric problems and is no longer able to work. His life has been wrecked just as much as for the families of the dead.
The government has set up a $2.9 billion fund for monitoring, treatment and compensation for the 20,000 plus "other" victims. But the question remains - why was this serious health hazard not clearly recognised in the first place?
PS: Some first responders get help, some don't. Ralph and Barbara Geidel have spent close to $100,000 on his medical treatment since 2003, when the former fireman and first responder was diagnosed with tongue and neck cancer. The Zadroga Act, which set up the compensation fund, doesn't cover cancer. Yet a study in The Lancet says firefighters at Ground Zero are 19% more likely to get cancer than those who weren't there. Ralph's brother Gary died in the World Trade Center attack.
Pic: Alex Sanchez