By Jessica Easthope
“The federal government telling people the air was safe to breathe,” said Richard Alles as he remembers back to September 11, 2001. “We were never prepared for that, there was no breathing protection.”
Breathing in that dust has proved more deadly over the last 20 years than the terrorist attack itself. A truth Alles knows all too well.
He was a battalion chief coming off a 24-hour shift at his firehouse in Canarsie when he jumped onto a rescue truck for a job that would define his life and career. A ride that took him to Ground Zero for three straight days. He says his Catholic faith carried him through, it kept him strong inside – as he was weakened by the horrific sights and sounds.
The air surrounding the wreckage had the same toxic pH level as Draino. Alles learned just how harmful it was when he was diagnosed with skin cancer.
“The paper masks we were using would clog up and you’d discard them, so I pretty much went mask-less for the first couple of days,” Alles said.
Alles now works at Barasch and McGarry Law Firm as the 9/11 Director of Community Affairs, helping other survivors get the justice they deserve through the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund and World Trade Center Health Program.
“Not a day goes by without one of my clients dying, it’s truly heartbreaking,” said Michael Barasch the managing partner of the law firm.
Barasch defines a 9/11 survivor as anyone who lived or worked in downtown manhattan following the attack. The firm still has 25,000 clients, sadly 1,500 have died from 9/11-related illnesses including 68 different cancers. 80 percent of all 9/11 first responders have enrolled in the Victim Compensation Fund.
But you didn’t have to be running into the towers to get sick, those running from them were just as susceptible.
“We were all exposed to the same toxic dust, not surprisingly we’re all coming down with the same illnesses and dying from the same illnesses, this is not just about first responders,” said Barasch.
This anniversary Alles and Barasch & McGarry are encouraging survivors to look at their health within the scope of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The day might live in their minds forever, but it doesn’t have to live in their bodies.
If you or someone you know is suffering 9/11-related symptoms, you can register for the Victim Compensation Fund and World Trade Center Health Program at vcf.gov