9/11 Anniversary Shines a Light on Survivor Health Struggles

For many Americans, the events of September 11, 2001 are still fresh in their minds. Even 14 years later, it is nearly impossible to forget the horror that unfolded that day. Sadly, thousands of people who were at Ground Zero on 9/11 are continuing to feel not just the mental effects, but the physical effects as well. Currently, more than 33,000 responders and survivors have an illness caused by the attacks or the immediate aftermath – and many more have already died.

“Dust Lady” Featured in Iconic 9/11 Photo Passes Away

Two weeks ago on August 24th, Marcy Borders, a 9/11 survivor known as the “Dust Lady,” died from stomach cancer at the age of 42. When the September 11th attacks occurred, Borders was 28 and had just begun working for Bank of America in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Photographer Stan Honda captured the now-infamous image of Borders dressed professionally for work, and covered head to toe in gray dust, with only the whites of her eyes visible. The image was distributed worldwide and Borders was dubbed the “Dust Lady.”

The dust that covered Borders, however, was not harmless. It was a toxic mixture of several dangerous substances, including what is speculated to be asbestos, lead, ground glass, gypsum, and calcite. Many, including Borders herself, felt her cancer diagnosis was the result of exposure to the deadly toxins that were released into the air the day the World Trade Center towers collapsed.

“I’m saying to myself, ‘Did this thing ignite cancer cells in me?” she told the Jersey Journal in an interview last year. “I definitely believe it because I haven’t had any illnesses. I don’t have high blood pressure…high cholesterol, diabetes.”

“How do you go from being healthy to waking up the next day with cancer?” she asked. After asking this question, she then began to sob, according to the paper.

What makes Borders’s death even more heartbreaking is the fact that she was finally starting to get her life together after many years of struggling. Following the events of 9/11, Borders was overcome by depression and started abusing drugs, including alcohol and crack cocaine. Several years later, after Osama Bin Laden was killed and Marcy had successfully completed time in rehab, she was finding peace and had begun working again. Before receiving her stomach cancer diagnosis in August 2014, Borders was helping a local mayoral candidate with his campaign.

Upon receiving news of Borders’s passing, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted: “Heartbroken by the passing of Marcy Borders, who was stricken by cancer after exposure to toxins on 9/11.”

How Many Survivors Were Poisoned on September 11th?

Those who made it out of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 probably felt incredibly lucky at the time — they lived through our nation’s deadliest terrorist attack. However, as the years have passed, more and more have been forced to battle conditions and diseases that developed as a result of their exposure to deadly toxins.

“Many are disabled and can no longer work,” said Gillibrand in a statement on her website. “They are suffering from a host of chronic diseases: asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, cancer and many more, caused by exposure to toxins and carcinogens at Ground Zero.”

Currently, the top 15 certified cancers of individuals seeking help through the CDC’s World Trade Center Health Program are:

  1. Non-melanoma Skin
  2. Prostate
  3. Lymphoma
  4. Melanoma of Skin
  5. Thyroid
  6. Breast – Female
  7. Lung/Bronchus
  8. Kidney
  1. Leukemia
  2. Colon
  3. Bladder
  4. Myeloma
  5. Oropharynx
  6. Rectum
  7. Breast – Carcinoma in Situ

One cancer that is not currently in the top 15 — mesothelioma — is an important condition to watch for in the coming years. The World Trade Center towers were filled with spray-on asbestos insulation, and other asbestos-containing products were also used throughout the towers’ construction for various purposes, among them, to act as a powerful fire retardant. When the towers fell, those asbestos fibers were released into the air. Mesothelioma is caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers that become lodged in the lining of the lungs, stomach, or less frequently, the heart. This rare form of cancer has a long latency period and can take 20-50 years to develop. We may begin to see more mesothelioma diagnoses in 9/11 survivors at or around the year 2020.

Our thoughts are with everyone who was affected — whether directly, or indirectly — by the deadly terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, including the irreplaceable, inspiring Marcy Borders and her family.

Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

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Last modified: October 4, 2017