Year by year, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States move closer to becoming historical events whose stories have been completely told. The Twin Towers fell. A U.S. Navy SEAL ended Osama bin Laden’s life. Documentaries about 9/11 flood our television sets every fall.
But 9/11 isn’t over. Roughly 14,000 U.S. military personnel remain in Afghanistan. Four Americans this year have died in what is now the nation’s longest war. And in New York City, experts believe the death toll from toxic exposure at the Twin Towers site will surpass the death toll (2,977) from the attacks themselves.
Those sobering details intensify Tuesday’s 17th memorial of the 9/11 attacks.
Earlier this week, USA Today catalogued the still-rising human toll of this horrific moment in American history. Nearly 10,000 first responders and others have been diagnosed with cancers related to exposure at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan; 9/11 exposure illnesses are responsible for more than 2,000 deaths. The monthly increase in that number is why experts believe exposure deaths will surpass victims’ deaths, possibly by the end of this year.
Twenty-three current or former members of the New York City Police Department died in 2017 from 9/11-related causes, the newspaper reported. The New York City Fire Department’s 9/11 illness death toll is nearly 180 in the last 17 years. The FBI says 15 agents have died from cancers caused by 9/11 exposure. Across all agencies, there has been 163 9/11-related deaths thus far this year.
In broad medical terms, what started more than a decade ago as respiratory ailments from breathing toxic dust and smoke has now become repeated diagnoses of cancer among first responders, experts say. USA Today wrote, “Some 90,000 people have reported exposure to toxic chemicals — asbestos, burning jet fuel, burning computer parts, pulverized concrete and myriad other substances. ‘No one has ever codified or captured all the stuff that was released from that pile,’ said Dr. Michael Crane of the World Trade Center Health Program Clinical Center of Excellence at Mount Sinai. ‘It’s an unknown exposure.’”
This is America’s ongoing war, with a still-rising death toll, both here and abroad, and an end date no one can predict. If you want perspective for Tuesday’s memorial services, there it is.