The Hidden Heroes of 9/11
From In El Correo
December, 2003
By Olga Acosta

The tragedy of the World Trade Center left thousands of victims and many heroes. However, today many of those heroes are victims that no one wants to discuss.

These are the people who were and still are working where the twin towers used to rise.

“We belong to local 78, a union that organizes personnel expert in the handling of asbestos, lead and hazardous materials. There are 3000 people working, all immigrants. Fifty per cent of us are Latino” said Edison Severino, director of the Comite Inmigrantes Unidos, an organization created to fight for the right of these workers. These people cleaned the tons of trash and highly toxic debris that was left after the terrorist attacks.

“We were there for a year, working twelve hours shifts, seven days a week. We also went to Washington and to the Post Office during the Anthrax cases” said Jorge Roldan, also a member of the Comite.

However, today instead of honoring them for their invaluable labor, they will be left without jobs.

“The law has changed since 9/11. Before, anyone could obtain a license to work with asbestos, today you must have an ID from the Department of Motor Vehicles and you must have a Social Security Number…almost 80 percent of the workers of local 78 do not have this document. Of course, when the job needed to be done nobody asked us for our social security” said Roldan.

As if this wasn’t enough, these workers are already feeling the effects of working with hazardous materials.

Illness

“We are sick, not only because of the psychological impact of the tragedy, but also because of the inhalation of these products has given us insomnia, allergies, headaches and alteration in our menstrual cycles” said Anita Bermudez, Ecuadorian who has worked for more than a decade with local 78.

Bermudez was part of the team in charge of the cleaning up of Anthrax. To do that she had to consume Cipro to fight against the hazardous bacteria. This “medicine” causes a reduction of the stomach.

“The consequences can be worse. The minerals that we work with will stay in our bodies for years and will later take the form of arthritis, respiratory deficiencies that may cause death and various types of cancers” said Valencia, an expert in hazardous materials.

“When we worked in the towers we had to wear the required protective suits, but for lunch we were allowed to leave so the protection were gone at midday” said Elena Corrales one of the workers affected.

Jorge Roldan explained that people were never told the risk they ran due to environmental hazards.

While many of these workers will be left without a job and will collect unemployment, Local 78 is looking to hire 200 new employees, according to the ads that they have posted on the internet.

At the same time, in order to receive medical attention many of the workers must have worked 400 hours, a number of hours that many did not work.

“We have no protection. Nobody wants to help us. Thousands of us are without jobs after we have served the nation” said Ivonne Leroux, another affected worker.

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Translated from Spanish By Valeria Treves

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