Twenty years ago, the devastating attacks of 9/11 changed America forever, when 19 Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial aircrafts and carried out coordinated suicide attacks against U.S. targets. Two of those planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, one hit the Pentagon, and the fourth crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA thanks to the heroism of the passengers of Flight United #93. These brave passengers fought off their attackers and managed to regain enough control of the plane to thwart off an attack meant for the Capitol, but unfortunately with not enough time to save the plane from being forced into a nosedive crash.
These tragic events of September 11, 2001, will be seared in our memory as if it were yesterday. Each one of us old enough, can remember with great clarity where we were and what we were doing as we focused on the most horrific attack ever on American soil. We can recount, in slow motion detail, our disbelief as we watched a second plane crash into the south tower. Now we knew.
This is no accident. We’re under attack.
Our hearts were ripped out as our iconic twin towers collapsed and left Lower Manhattan engulfed in smoke and dust, killing thousands of innocent people and shattering America’s innocence. As the Pentagon was struck, and another plane went down in Pennsylvania, you could feel the wedge of history cleaving the before from the after.
In the hours, days and months that followed, many of us encountered recurring waves of nauseating visceral reactions of despair, incomprehension, fear, sadness, anxiety, anger, and vengeance.
There was unity that followed, because we were Americans first and that’s what mattered. Our nation was attacked and we came together strong.
Those who experienced the WTC attacks and those who repeatedly witnessed the attacks, whether on TV or on the news, were at greater risk of experiencing PTSD, a common bi-product of the events of 9/11, followed by depression and substance abuse.
Thousands were exposed to toxins while in the towers or during part of the “Rescue & Recovery” effort at Ground Zero.
When the planes crashed into the towers, thousands and thousands of gallons of jet fuel ignited a fire that spread to 100,000 tons of organic debris and transformer, heating diesel oils in the buildings, setting off toxic plumes of soot and dust from pulverized buildings. Thousands who lived or worked in the neighborhood found themselves breathing in air thick with toxic fumes and particles from the burning skyscrapers and later developed cancer, but none had it worse than the first responders who were working a death trap of carcinogens as they climbed over burning metal looking for survivors and eventually bodies.
Many with illnesses have been deteriorating over the last 15 years and more and more people who sacrificed at Ground Zero are sick and dying. Many first responders have already died of cancer or are now suffering from respiratory illnesses, like: asthma or COPD, from breathing in toxic fumes, and the giant WTC dust cloud that contaminated the air after the attacks and the collapse of both towers.
For many that were physically there in lower Manhattan, the 9/11 attacks have left psychological scars. It took months for people to come out of their fragile shells—the truth of the matter is that New Yorkers were experiencing trauma, depression and PTSD. Many had to physically leave the city and many will never be the same. And while the majority of New Yorkers, have more or less recovered in the last twenty years—a sizable share of survivors are still grappling with the shock and horror of that dreadful day.