Walking through the World Trade Centre debris – in a cloud of toxic dust – three men pass the ambulance driven by paramedic Marvin Bethea on September 11, 2001. Photo: M.B. Hammer

None of us can forget the images of September 11, 2001: the explosions, the buildings collapsing, the plume of smoke, the dust.

Last year we wrote about The Air They Breathed and this year we remain concerned about the health of those who were there near the WTC, whether they were first responders, heroic civilians trying to help their neighbors, area workers and residents, children or even animals.

What health challenges do the survivors face?

Linda Reinstein of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization lays it out:

“When the towers collapsed, building debris blanketed Lower Manhattan, exposing thousands of residents and workers to known hazards in the air, including over 2,000 tons of asbestos. Consequently, a disproportionate number of area residents and 9/11 emergency service workers have since died of cancer. For example, a comprehensive cancer study of New York City Firefighters after 9/11 found that firefighters working at the site of the terrorist attacks contracted 10% more cancers than the general public and 19% more cancers than firefighters who did not work at the site.” (emphasis added-AE)

On Monday, we discussed whether undisturbed asbestos is really something to worry about and today we say again: Yes.

One of my most vivid memories of 9/11 and the weeks that followed is how aware I was all the time of the chance that my husband could go to work and never come back. Our family could go to a fair or other public event and be a target. That any plane could be a threat or any contrail mean something was coming. I’ve gotten over my irrational fear, thank goodness, but an abiding truth remains. We never know when disaster could strike. Any day could be the day of “The One,” the earthquake we know will come eventually. And other catastrophes in other places. We cannot afford to make these disasters worse by ignoring the aftereffects that we can have control over.

Our hearts go out to all those who lost their lives and those they left behind.