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08 September 2009 

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Health Concerns Dominate 8 Years After 9/11 Attacks

08 September 2009

It's eight years this week, since the 9/11 attacks on the United States. But there is still controversy over the pace at which the New York site is being rebuilt and whether a huge number of people are sick because of the attack.

A plane strikes the world trade center
A plane strikes the World Trade Center
Most New Yorkers remember September 11, 2001 as a sparkling clear, peaceful day. But that image was shattered at 8:46 in the morning when the first tower of the World Trade Center was hit. Angela Jackson saw the tower from her nearby office window.

"We saw the big gaping hole," she recalled. "We saw people jumping so everyone was frantic. I had family members calling the line."

Minutes later, the second tower was hit. On the street there was chaos.

"Some people were frantic, crying, trying to help people that were cut by glass that had spewed out," she added.

A few hours later more shocking developments: One of the towers fell, then the other. These pictures are still seared in the memories of most people. Kathleen Cross was in her apartment in nearby Battery Park City.

"It sounded like a helicopter was outside. I saw this kind of black cloud coming by my window," she said. "Everything was covered in white, all this beautiful greenery just white, white dust."

Amazingly within one week, the New York Stock Exchange re-opened. Other businesses soon followed. Yet employees who returned say even months later the air smelled toxic.

"It felt as if all my five senses were attacked," said eyewitness Kaesun John. "You could taste, you could smell, you could actually reach out and touch. It was unbelievable."

Kaesen developed upper respiratory problems. Today she is asthmatic.

"I really felt that being in that environment caused me to have the present health conditions that I am experiencing," she added.

That is the key concern authorities face today. How many people became ill because of the toxic fumes from the collapse of the buildings at Ground Zero? Claire Calladine directs 9/11 Health Now, a group that believes the number is in the tens of thousands.

"The toxins that were at the World Trade Center were very potent toxins," she noted. "They affected the whole body. They affected the central nervous system. They affected what we call the aerodigestive system. They affected every area of the body, and there were some very serious exposures down there."

Still many came to live here, because they heard housing prices were reasonable.
Alison Kasillo moved into Battery Park City, seven months after the attack, even though she had heard about the toxic air.

"I got a great deal on my apartment and as a typical New Yorker they go for the apartment," she said.

A year later she was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), a lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe.

"It's a bad thing [having] Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease," she added.

There is no proof the toxic air caused her condition, or Kaesun John's asthma. But there is no question that 9/11 psychologically traumatized this city. Still everyone looks forward to the time the new Towers depicted in this official plan, will be finished.

NEW YORK RESIDENT MICHAEL FORTENBAUGH: "But there's a reason why we chose to live here. We live here for the culture, for the people and there's an acceptable level of risk that you have to be part of a city of this nature."

Today they have just barely begun rebuilding the site. It is way behind schedule mired in controversy over cost and who will pay. Still this Friday, designated a National Day of Service and Remembrance, there will be a memorial here to remember those who died.

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