September/October 2021 Issue
August 21, 2021

A Closer Look: 20 Years after 9/11

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
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Support, advocacy for workers continues

  • NYSUT has compiled a list of resources for teaching about 9/11 and an archive of our coverage of the heroics of union members. Visit nysut.org/911.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Liam Lynch was a 10-year-old worried about his father, who was driving into Manhattan for a meeting at the World Trade Center when terrorists attacked.

“I was frantic. Where is he?” he recalled. His father turned his car around and came home that day — but Lynch was marked.

Twenty years later, Lynch is a safety and health specialist working for the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. His work includes reaching out to people who have suffered from living and working in the vicinity of the New York City attacks.

He provides education to first responders and workers — including teachers, faculty, staff and students — who returned to their jobs while toxic dust and debris infiltrated the air, the ground and surrounding buildings.

“The dust cloud that engulfed lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn exposed around 400,000 people to the World Trade Center contaminants on Sept. 11, and many live with chronic illnesses as a result,” said Veronica Foley, NYSUT health and safety specialist.

“It is important that we continue to connect with NYSUT members who have been struggling with one or more of the conditions covered by the World Trade Center Health Program. Thankfully NYSUT has the resources to help our members by connecting them to the WTC program or to the Victims Compensation Fund.”

The more data that the 9/11 health programs have, the more that conditions can be connected to the attacks. “I’ve encountered through my outreach and education plenty of teachers, faculty and staff who were impacted by 9/11 and are unaware they are eligible for health care and compensation,” Lynch said.

Conditions include 68 types of cancer and more than 100 different ailments, including asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), PTSD, night terrors and anxiety.

Asthma from 9/11 is different than other kinds of asthma, Lynch said, and since it’s unique to that exposure, treatment can be tailored.

Many people do not realize how conditions can surface much later, or how they are connected to the attacks. At one of many educational events hosted by the Professional Staff Congress, representing City University of New York faculty and staff, Lynch helped a union member who has had sinus issues for years but did not realize they were connected to exposure.

Lynch stressed that there are long periods between exposure and certain conditions — some health problems can surface 20, 30, or 40 years later.

Asbestos, silica, lead, mercury and more than 70 known carcinogens in high volume concentrations were released into the air and dust with explosive force, Lynch said.

Surrounding buildings were “heavily contaminated” as the dust blew into ventilation systems.

The World Trade Center Health Program was established by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, and is administered by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety. NIOSH contracts out with clinicians in all 50 states to provide this service, Lynch said. The Victims Compensation Fund, which requires separate application, is run by the Department of Justice.

Need assistance connecting to the WTC Health Program or Victims Compensation Fund? Email Lynch at llynch@nycosh.org.

Students commemorate solemn anniversary

Middle school educators in Brooklyn teamed up this past spring for a monthslong research project to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America.

More than 300 students were guided to use print and digital resources, and interview neighbors and family members.

“These students, all born years after that tragic day in our city, have been inspired by this project to create art illustrations, models, posters, audio histories, original songs, book reviews and a commemorative ceremony,” said Rose Reissman.

Director of The Writing Institute and a member of the United Federation of Teachers at Ditmas IS 62, Reissman launched the project as a way to inspire students about the resiliency of people coming through a tragedy.

The project-based learning model included UFT members Michael Downes, digital and social studies; Angelo Carideo, technology and social studies; Amanda Xavier, English language arts; and Dina Annese Francis, ESL.

The projects were done in person and remotely under the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Students found the parallels between the two events — isolation, trauma, the need to be resilient and come together, along with biases unwarranted by facts — illuminating and comforting,” Reissman said.

Even students whose parents were living in other countries at the time of the terrorist attacks had family members who were able to share about its impact around the world.

Oral histories were shared by neighbors who lived in the area of the attacks; one from a father who responded to help; and another from a mom who was an Army soldier on leave and served as a first responder.

“While the vast majority of family oral history comments were filled with descriptions of their tears and fears during those days in 2001, they also assured their children that they had glimpsed persons coming together to help one another, and that they learned lessons ... about the value of family love, community, and the impermanence of material structures,” Reissman said.

The project also unearthed biases.

Many Muslim student’s families were able to point out examples of anti-Muslim bias in the media and the mind of the public, Reissman noted.

To learn about the project, visit bit.ly/ditmas911.

NYSUT has compiled a list of resources for teaching about 9/11 and an archive of our coverage of the heroics of union members. Visit nysut.org/911.

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