Dust: The Lingering Legacy of 9/11



The September 11th attacks continue to kill. 2,996 people lost their lives that day, however by 2019 that number will be surpassed by the deaths from 9/11 related illnesses. With the eighteenth 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 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.

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. Documenting their experience, the film highlights the continual human cost of 9/11 as the day that keeps taking. To date, over 68 illnesses and cancers have been attributed to the 9/11 toxic dust, many with 15-20 year latency periods. As the plague looms, everyone is looking over their shoulders wondering: “Am I next?” Dust brings the tragedy into the painful present where survivors become victims. 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?”