Title Page Previous Next Contents | Part 3. Was environmental health protected on 9/11? Whistleblowers, watchdogs and wee little people

Part 3. Was environmental health protected on 9/11?  

Whistleblowers, watchdogs and wee little people

 

 

In the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers fled lower Manhattan. Once they had absorbed the shock of the tragedy, and began to return to their homes and offices, however, they were urged to try to return to normal.

 

Manhattan, NY—Sept 15, 2001

Photo: Space Imaging

On September 15th, a day after the mayor had urged people to return to work, Kim Todd returned to her home after leaving briefly. Like many people with pets, she returned for her dog Rigsby, whom she took down to Ground Zero to hug and pet rescue workers, and to perform, raising money for search and rescue.

 

Despite the upheavals, she settled into life again in a totally shaken neighborhood filled with police in full riot gear and a tank parked permanently—until the beginning of November—outside her door “There were loud speakers all over the neighborhood playing patriotic sounds—which made you know someone was there,” she recalls.

 

Another new reality: Her apartment, like thousands of other New Yorkers’, was covered in dust.  “Every week they’d discover something new about the dust or how to get rid of it,” she says. First it was wet rags, then it was vacuuming, then it was no vacuuming, then it was HEPA filters, but what we discovered was that dust can usually be removed, but this didn’t dust off.” The fine, pink or grey talc that stuck to everything proved difficult to remove, she found, but Todd and Rigsby stayed in her apartment because, like others, she didn’t have the means to do otherwise. With no grocery stores, her friends made her care packages or sent canned food, and she coped with lack of permanent phone service until January.


“They kept a lot from people because they didn’t want to scare us—but we were distrustful because either there was stuff they weren’t telling us or they didn’t know.”

 

It wasn’t long before the cough that gave her intense shortness of breath would be described as “World Trade Center cough,” because doctors seemed to be able to diagnose it as nothing else. “The city kept saying there was nothing to worry about health-wise, but there were problems and everybody knew it,” says Todd. After months, her dog died of a stroke brought on by any number of causes—“probably just the stress of being down here.”

 

Nearly two years later,Todd still gets terrible headaches, continues to have a raspy throat with a little bit of asthma that she never had before, but she is glad that she is sleeping more than she used to, which was no more than an hour at a time. “We all have post traumatic stress,” says Todd, who still gets flashbacks of bodies falling to the ground, or people walking out of buildings with their skin peeled back.  “But now everyone is moving on. I have a chance to start anew. I’m still on a cane, but hopefully by next fall I won’t be.”

 

Does Todd have hard feelings toward the city? “No, they did the best they could under the circumstances,” she says. But she regrets health officials kept them in the dark about dangers. “They kept a lot from people because they didn’t want to scare us—but we were distrustful because either there was stuff they weren’t telling us or they didn’t know.” She regrets not hearing about serious contaminants like mercury and lead until too late.