How did your father's time at Ground Zero affect his health?
While my dad survived the day of 9/11, the toxic dust lingered over his shoulder for 16 years. In January 2017, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Six months later, he passed away. His cancer was directly linked to his exposure to the toxic chemicals present at Ground Zero.
For my dad, his diagnosis was unwelcome, but anticipated. For our family, however, it was a complete shock. He rarely talked with me and my brothers about 9/11 and his time at Ground Zero, so we had no idea. After his death, I needed to know more about the conditions at Ground Zero and what my dad could never bring himself to tell us. In searching for answers, I discovered tens of thousands of individuals who share my dad's fate — men and women who had been in lower Manhattan breathing in toxins, who are now suffering or have died from related illnesses. Once the magnitude and severity of the situation became apparent, I began to document it.
Tell us about the work you're doing to keep his legacy alive?
I now dedicate my life to telling this story. My documentary, DUST: The Lingering Legacy of 9/11, highlights the tragedy of people who relive 9/11 daily by living with its deadly legacy. While their lives were spared on 9/11, they now face a mounting health crisis. It serves as a reminder of the ongoing human toll of 9/11. As thousands continue to die, survivors are forced to fight political and legal battles for recognition and compensation.
What would you like to share with those born after 9/11?
It is important for them to learn about the terrorist attacks beyond one day a year. We must also teach students about what happened after 9/11, including the nine-month rescue and recovery effort, and acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of people dealing with its health consequences. Recognizing these lingering effects and all those impacted is crucial to educating the next generation.
Anything else you'd like to add?
The documentary DUST reminds us that the impacts of the tragedy are still painfully present. While the 9/11 narrative has always focused on explaining what happened, DUST makes us consider what is happening now, what we've learned, and how we help those who are suffering.
Compiled by Caitlyn Best, Government and Community Affairs Coordinator