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Wed Oct 22 15:51:12 SAST 2014

Americans mark 9/11 with low key ceremony

Reuters, Sapa AFP, | 11 September, 2012 09:57

Americans mark the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks with relatively low-key ceremonies that reflect a gradual dampening of passions around the fateful day.

The main event will be the ritual reading at New York’s Ground Zero of the names of the 2,983 people killed both on 9/11 and in the precursor to those attacks, the 1993 car bombing of the World Trade Center.

Relatives of the dead will take turns to read the names against a backdrop of mournful music.

They will pause for moments of silence marking the time when each of the four planes hijacked by al-Qaeda turned into fireballs — two smashing into the Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon and one into a Pennsylvania field.

Another two moments of silence will be observed at the times the two towers collapsed, accounting for the vast majority of 9/11’s victims.

However, this year New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other politicians will not take the podium at Ground Zero, in contrast with last year’s 10th anniversary, when President Barack Obama led a long list of VIP guests.

Obama and his wife Michelle will observe the anniversary with a moment of silence outside the White House, then visit the Pentagon memorial.

Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, will travel to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United flight 93 crashed after passengers attacked the hijackers and thwarted a worse disaster.

The White House said Obama had been briefed by “key national security principals on... preparedness and security posture” for the anniversary.

But in keeping with the lower key atmosphere this year, there will apparently be no official suspension of the bitter presidential campaign.

Former president Bill Clinton will be campaigning for Obama and speaking out against Republican Mitt Romney at an event in Miami.

The passage of time appears to have cooled public attention to September 11, particularly after the huge media coverage of the 10th anniversary, which many saw as a suitable moment for allowing commemorations to peak.

A skyscraper at One World Trade Center is near completion and is again the tallest building in New York, as were the Twin Towers before they came down.

Honouring first responders

President Obama urged Americans to honour first responders and men and women in uniform who keep the country safe as he marked the eleventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

“It’s a chance to honour the courage of the first responders who risked their lives — on that day, and every day since,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

“And it’s an opportunity to give thanks for our men and women in uniform who have served and sacrificed, sometimes far from home, to keep our country safe,” he added.

The 9/11 remembrances unite Americans like almost no other event. According to some polls, 97% of people remember where they were when they heard the news, on a par with John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Obama said the attacks 11 years ago filled Americans with questions about the origins of terrorism and how America should respond to it.

“The last decade has been a difficult one, but together, we have answered those questions and come back stronger as a nation,” he noted.

The president said the United States had now decimated Al-Qaeda’s leadership and put the terror network on a path to defeat.

“And thanks to the courage and skill of our intelligence personnel and armed forces, Osama bin Laden will never threaten America again,” he pointed out.

Osama's death

The killing by American troops of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in May 2011 has helped draw a line under 9/11, as has the opening of the Ground Zero memorial, where last year’s ceremonies were held.

Bin Laden’s successor Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video on the eve of this year’s anniversary in which he confirmed that his deputy, Abu Yayha al-Libi, had been killed in a drone strike in Pakistan in June.

Libi was considered Al-Qaeda’s global propaganda mastermind and his death dealt the biggest blow to the group since the killing of bin Laden.

This year sees the publishing on Tuesday of a book by a former US Navy SEAL who was among the troops who shot dead bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout.

The book describes in gory detail how the special forces killed the fugitive, then radioed back the news, saying it was “for God and country.”  The Pentagon has threatened legal action against the author, who uses the penname Mark Owen but has been outed by the US media as Matt Bissonnette.

But his Republican opponent has accused Obama of weak leadership during the Arab Spring turmoil and of failing to be tough enough on Iran’s government.

In Afghanistan, which once hosted bin Laden, US troops continue to battle the Taliban, Islamist fighters who were driven from power during the invasion a decade ago but have since regrouped.

Most foreign troops are scheduled to withdraw by the end of 2014, handing over responsibility for combat to Western-backed Afghan government forces.

Health fallout

The 70 000 surviving firefighters, police officers and other first responders who raced to the World Trade Center after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 will be entitled to free monitoring and treatment for some 50 forms of cancer.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announced on Monday that responders as well as survivors exposed to toxic compounds from the wreckage, which smoldered for three months, will be covered for cancer under the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

The act, which also covers responders and survivors of the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon outside Washington, was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Jan. 2, 2011.

The decision addresses concerns over the rising health toll for emergency workers in the wake of the attacks, when aircraft slammed into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York and the US military command center in northern Virginia.

It “marks an important step in the effort to provide needed treatment and care to 9/11 responders and survivors,” said Dr.

John Howard, administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program established by the Zadroga law.

“We have urged from the very beginning that the decision whether or not to include cancer be based on science,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.

The decision “will continue to ensure that those who have become ill due to the heinous attacks on 9/11 get the medical care they need and deserve.” 

1000 more deaths

Illnesses related to the Sept. 11 attacks have caused an estimated 1 000 deaths. Last week, the New York City Fire Department etched nine more names into a memorial wall honouring firefighters who died from illnesses after their work at Ground Zero, bringing the total to 64.

Cancers to be covered include lung and colorectal, breast and bladder, leukemias, melanoma and all childhood cancers.

The program had already covered respiratory diseases such as asthma and pulmonary fibrosis, mental disorders including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as well as musculoskeletal conditions.

But researchers have known that responders and survivors, including local business owners and residents, were exposed to a complex mixture of chemical agents, including human carcinogens.

That mix included combustion products from 20000 gallons of jet fuel, 100000 tons of organic debris, and 100000 gallons of heating and diesel oil.

Pulverized building materials created a toxic pall of cement dust, glass fibres, asbestos, crystalline silica, metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticides and dioxins — “a total of 287 chemicals or chemical groups,” the WTC health program reported in 2011.

“They did a magnificent thing, showing not only scientific acumen but also a generosity of spirit,” said Dr. Michael Crane, director of the WTC health program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Questions over cancer link

While scientists knew from the start that responders were exposed to toxic chemicals, it was not obvious they had caused cancer.

For many cancers, the time between exposure to a carcinogen and the appearance of a malignancy can be 20 years or more. That has cast doubt on whether cancers detected in the years after the attacks were caused by exposure to the toxic chemicals.

The health of first responders has also been intensely monitored, raising questions about whether an elevated rate of cancers reflected closer scrutiny, not a true increase. Also, data on potentially cancer-causing agents in the air around the WTC wasn’t collected until four days after the attacks.

“Nobody knows to this day what was in that cloud,” said Mount Sinai’s Crane. “Trying to assess the risk from an unknown exposure is incredibly difficult: we don’t know what people actually breathed.”

To confuse matters further, neither of two major reviews, in 2006 and 2007, found “any epidemiologic evidence for a causal association between September 11, 2001, exposures and cancer,” the WTC health program reported last year.

As a result, the program concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to add cancer to the list of covered conditions.

What changed?

On March 31, the program’s science advisory committee wrote to Howard noting that 15 compounds in the smoke, dust and gas at the WTC site are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known to cause cancer in people.

Thirty-seven are classified by the US National Toxicology Program as “reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans.”

In addition, the science advisors noted that many responders and survivors had high levels of inflammation, which recent research has linked to an elevated risk of cancer.

They therefore recommended that the program cover cancers that met any of three criteria: cancers caused by any 9/11 compound which the IARC classifies as a human carcinogen, cancers where high levels of inflammation have been documented, and cancers that epidemiology studies suggest that responders are at higher risk for than the general population.

The last category includes multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which have been reported in unusually high levels for New York City firefighters who worked at the WTC site.

Malignancies caused by compounds in the debris include respiratory system cancers, from the nose to the lungs. They have been linked to arsenic, asbestos, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, nickel and silica dust, all of which were in WTC air.

Cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum and liver have been linked to tetrachloroethylene, asbestos, lead or polychlorinated biphenyls, also in the toxic cloud and dust.

A 9/11 responder or survivor who seeks treatment for any of the covered conditions must be “certified” by a physician at one of the WTC health program centers, such as Mount Sinai’s.

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