September 11, 2001, was a tragic day for the nation, but particularly for the emergency first responders in New York, many of whom died with the collapse of the Towers. However, for many of the emergency personal who were responsible for the clean up, the tragedy is ongoing, and they are reminded of their work every time they attempt to draw another breath.
When the twin towers fell, they brought with them tons of debris, much of which contained asbestos. The way in which the towers collapsed aerosolized thousands of pounds of asbestos insulation and sprayed it over much of southern Manhattan.
The workers whose job it was to clean up the debris were provided some protective gear, including respirators. The herculean task of removing all of the wreckage took months and the workers received daily exposure to asbestos dust.
Some worker's respirators quickly clogged and they often ate their lunch with dirty hands. Because of the demands of the situation, many of the 2,300 workers did not have protective gear, while others lacked the necessary training to ensure that it was used correctly.
These workers are now concerned that the health fund that is covering their current medical expenses will not be renewed by Congress. It must pay out all of its funds by 2017, and for workers with respiratory illness who live in fear of asbestosis and mesothelioma, that may be long before the disease's symptoms appear.
With the long latency period of a disease like mesothelioma, which may not appear for decades after exposure to asbestos, these workers could be left without medical coverage, creating a second tragedy.
Source: Newsday, "9/11 asbestos crews share fear of health coverage running out," Joan Gralla, November 30, 2013