Many who responded to the attack on 9/11 never thought about themselves or the consequences of running toward the devastated sites. People like David LeValley, an FBI special agent who normally worked on drug trafficking, money laundering and combating violent transnational gangs, spent several weeks at the World Trade Center. He died May 26, 2018, as the result of illness brought on by toxins at the site of the World Trade Center.
On Thursday his service, and the service of many others who died from the toxins at the sites, was recognized formally with the unveiling of the 9/11 Memorial Glade at the World Trade Center in New York. The Glade honors all of the response, recovery, and rescue responders who came to sites in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania to help.
According to Handel Architects, the design creates a new pathway through a beautiful, tranquil space that roughly mirrors the location of the main ramp used by the rescue and recovery workers through their herculean nine-month effort. Along the path, six large stone elements break the surface of the plaza and push their way up and out of the ground. They flank the path and define it, forming a series of gateways. These stones are rough and worn, and their angle suggests a forceful resistance. The path ends near the Survivor Tree, a beloved symbol of New York’s resilience.
Exposure to the toxins impacted thousands of people both in the city and those who were detailed to assist in response. Many worked for weeks without the proper equipment to protect them from debris and toxins in the air.
“After the Arlington County Fire completed their rescue mission and it turned into a recovery mission, and the Bureau took the lead in that effort, a lot of the debris that was right where the plane had hit was moved out to the north parking lot by large dump trucks. And we sifted through the material …obviously, there’s dust. But again, I didn’t think that at the time — I wasn’t focused on, ‘Oh, this is dusty and it’s making me sneeze,’ or, ‘It’s making me cough.’ It was, ‘This is a very important job and I need to pay attention to what I’m doing,'” said FBI Special Agent Kara Sidener, who was detailed to response at the Pentagon.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information has documented the impact of health-related illnesses on firefighters and other first responders, including paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and police. Recently, the impacts on non-emergency recovery workers who responded to the World Trade Center (WTC) site of the 9/11 have also been documented. “In the 16 years following 9/11, Ground Zero recovery workers have been plagued by a range of long-term physical impacts, including musculoskeletal injuries, repetitive motion injuries, gait deterioration, and respiratory disorders. Psychosocial issues include post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, insomnia, support-system fatigue, and addictive and risk-taking behaviors.”
“I think because we do this job, as all FBI employees do, to think of others before us. We’re serving a mission, we’re protecting the American people, that we don’t necessarily think that we have to protect ourselves, too. And that’s vitally important because if we’re not here to do the job, then the job’s not going to get done,” Sidener continued.
In response to the illnesses contracted by responders, Congress created the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (“VCF”) to provide compensation for any individual (or a personal representative of a deceased individual) who suffered physical harm or was killed as a result of the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of Sept. 11, 2001, or the debris-removal efforts that took place in the immediate aftermath of those crashes.
The fund was reinstated on Jan. 2, 2011, as part of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 and again in 2015 through December 2020. More than 50,000 people have applied for funding under the VCF and over $5.1 billion in benefits have been paid.
In February the Special Master of the fund, Rupa Bhattacharyya, determined that the funds remaining would not be sufficient for all the claims and would need to be renewed by Congress in 2020.