The September 11th attacks continue to kill. 2,996 people lost their lives that day, however by 2021 that number will be surpassed by the deaths from 9/11 related illnesses. With the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 approaching, the World Trade Center Health Program has counted nearly 10,000 first responders, residents, workers, and students with cancer resulting from 9/11 dust exposure. For many, the status of a 9/11 survivor comes with gruesome health complications and, all too often, leads to a painful death.
As first responders and volunteers sifted through “the pile” in a rescue effort that soon became a recovery, the dust settled on their skin and in their lungs. With a pH level comparable to Drano, the toxic flurry contained steel, gypsum from drywall, cellulose, synthetic molecules, pulverized glass fibers, jet fuel, PCBs, and even human flesh. Yet, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told the people of New York that the air was safe to breathe and that those exposed to the dust were unlikely to suffer short or long-term adverse health effects. The consequences of this affirmation have since proven deadly.
FDNY firefighter Billy Gormley was one of the first to respond to Lower Manhattan with his Ladder Company after the second tower collapsed. While he survived the attack, the toxic dust lingered over his shoulder for sixteen years. In January 2017 he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. In June he passed away. His cancer directly linked to his months spent on the pile.
9/11 was a day Billy rarely, if ever, discussed with his family. For him, his diagnosised was unwelcomed, but anticipated. For his family, complete shock. After his death his daughter, Bridget, wanted to know what her father could never bring himself to tell her. In searching for answers, she discovered tens of thousands who share a similar fate as her father. When the magnitude and severity of the situation became apparent, she began to document it. Hundreds of thousands of sick and dying from an event twenty years ago.
Dust highlights the tragedy of the people who relive 9/11 and deal with its deadly legacy on a daily basis. While their lives were spared that day, they now face a mounting health crisis. It serves as a reminder of the ongoing human toll of 9/11 – nearly two decades later. As thousands continue to die, survivors are forced to fight political and legal battles for recognition and compensation. Dust brings the tragedy into the painful present where survivors are still burdened by the past. Up until now, the 9/11 narrative has mostly focused on “what happened”. As tens of thousands continue to become sick, DUST explores a new direction in the narrative: “What is happening now, and what have we learned?
Bridget Gormley Director
Steve Buscemi Producer Fargo, Miracle Workers, A Good Job: Stories from the FDNY
Wren Arthur Producer Puzzle, Submission, Paint it Black, Check It
Gerry Sievers Producer