Seventeen years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, America is still losing first responders to the after effects of the toxic environment it created.
A funeral will be held today for an FBI agent who died last week. Special Agent Melissa S. Morrow, 48, was a first responder to the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. She died of brain cancer.
The agent served in the Washington Field Office of the FBI prior to being assigned to the Kansas City Field Office. In Washington, Morrow spent 10 weeks as a member of the Evidence Response Team in the warehouse that held evidence from the terrorist plane crash into the Pentagon. During that time she sifted through the dusty evidence from the attack separating human remains and looking for evidence pointing to the perpetrators.
The Federal government classifies her death as a line-of-duty death because of her exposure to contaminants at the Pentagon and as a first responder in 2013 to a six-alarm fire in a warehouse fire in Alexandria, Va.
The list of the fallen continues to grow as police officers, firefighters, first responders and recovery workers succumb to illnesses linked to their work in the aftermath of the attacks.
Researchers estimate that the choking dust that coated the ground zero recovery site — and persisted in the air for days afterward — contained a hazardous mix of airborne particles, including aluminum, asbestos, glass and the remnants of burned jet fuel. Similar hazards affected workers at the Pentagon and the Shanksville, Pa., crash site where the hijacked United Flight 93 was brought down.
Scientists studying exposure to those airborne hazards have linked them to lung disease, asthma and cancer, and the federal government has taken steps in recent years to help tackle these lasting health challenges.