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Health problems have followed many 9/11 survivors, CDC shows in new museum exhibit

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's been 22 years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, but tens of thousands of people are still sick from exposure to the disaster site. The CDC in Atlanta is now sharing what it has learned about the health effects of 9/11 with the public. From Georgia Public Broadcasting, Ellen Eldridge reports.

ELLEN ELDRIDGE, BYLINE: For months after the attack, responders and survivors breathed in air filled with small pieces of the World Trade Center towers. That dust is now part of the health effects of 9/11 exhibit at the CDC Museum in Atlanta. A piece of that dust is magnified in a large photograph.

ANTHONY GARDNER: Why is this such an important story to tell 22 years after 9/11?

ELDRIDGE: That's Anthony Gardner with the CDC's World Trade Center Health Program. He's giving a tour of the exhibit.

GARDNER: Nearly 80,000 people have physical or mental health conditions stemming from their exposures to 9/11-related conditions.

ELDRIDGE: Gardner lost his brother Harvey in the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers. He spent the last two decades advocating for the victims who experienced things...

GARDNER: Such as dust, smoke, debris and the traumatic events.

ELDRIDGE: He says 22 years later, cases of cancer, respiratory illness and anxiety disorders are still being discovered. Kayla Bergeron was in her office on the 68th floor of the North Tower when the plane hit. For more than an hour, she and others made their way down the survivor's staircase in the dark. She says once they finally made it out, a police officer told them to run.

KAYLA BERGERON: You know, I'm like, after all this, who wants to run? And I look around - this giant plume of black. Oh, my God. I ran 16 blocks to the Holland Tunnel and dove under a car.

ELDRIDGE: Bergeron was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a common mental health effect among survivors. Stories like hers are part of the CDC's exhibit. The collection also shows what health experts have learned over the decades. Lisa Delaney is with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. She was at the CDC on September 11, 2001.

LISA DELANEY: We did not have a plan to send people out the door rapidly to conduct immediate sampling of the potential exposures.

ELDRIDGE: Now she is leading the CDC's emergency preparedness program. The goal is to make sure first responders are protected from potential health hazards like those discovered in 9/11 survivors.

DELANEY: It's always with us when we think about new emergencies - for example, the Maui wildfires - and now understanding what they were potentially exposed to and how that might impact their long term health.

ELDRIDGE: The 9/11 Health Effects exhibition at the CDC Museum is open through April of next year. There's also a digital version available online.

For NPR News, I'm Ellen Eldridge in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUN B AND STATIK SELETAH SONG, "STILL TRILL (FEAT. METHOD MAN AND GRAFH)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ellen Eldridge is a digital producer for GPB. She has previously worked as a breaking news reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The topics she most often writes about as a freelance reporter are mental health issues, crime and public safety. Ellen graduated Kennesaw State University magna cum laude in 2015 with a degree in communication focused on journalism.