This Saturday marks twenty years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 that occurred in New York City, Arlington, VA, and Shanksville, PA. This tragic event claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people and wounded thousands more. In the aftermath, survivors and responders were exposed to multiple hazards in the air and on the ground. Though two decades have passed, many continue to experience physical and mental effects from the attacks while new 9/11-related illnesses are being identified.
Since 2001, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) has been collecting on this important topic. A search in the catalog under the heading “September 11 Terrorist Attacks” returns results in a variety of formats including books, videos, technical reports, dissertations, and free electronic resources on topics such as DNA identification, personal narratives from rescue and evacuation efforts, monitoring programs, anthrax, and more. Recent additions to the collection expand the variety of formats and diversity of perspectives and document the continuing impact of the event.
Two decades later, doctors and researchers are still trying to understand the long-lasting and multifaceted health impacts on survivors, first responders, volunteers, and vulnerable populations. NLM’s new September 11: Health Effects and Policy web archive contains a wide selection of web resources documenting the health effects of and response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The archive preserves the evolving and often ephemeral content of these born-digital sites.
The web archive is a sampling of the many medical studies, treatment initiatives, and support organizations available to survivors who were directly or indirectly affected by the aftermath of the attacks in the following days, months, and years. These initiatives cover a broad spectrum of survivor health, including long-term cancer studies, psychological and psychiatric monitoring and support, respiratory disease treatment, survivor support networks, and benefits counseling. The FealGood Foundation is one organization that provides financial assistance to healthcare workers, first responders, transportation workers, sanitation workers, and others for expenses such as medications, physical aids, transportation to medical treatments, nutrition, and home utilities. Another, the VOICES Center for Resilience, provides long-term mental health support and resources for survivors and family of the deceased around the world.
The web archive also contains information about 9/11-related public policies at the federal, state, and local level. Perhaps most notable is the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. First passed by Congress in 2010, the act established the World Trade Center Health Program, which provides medical treatment and financial compensation for victims who were physically or emotionally impacted by exposures to Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The web archive follows subsequent lobbying efforts to reauthorize the act in 2015.
At the heart of the collection are websites publicly documenting the personal stories, narratives, memorials, and experiences of survivors, family of the deceased, and health care workers who have lived through unimaginable health setbacks due to their proximity to the attacks. These are individual reflections on the experiences of being a first responder, treating 9/11 victims, and sharing the very personal long-term effects on loved ones of exposure to carcinogens.
NLM is also including, in the Library’s Global Health Events web archive, the unique ways that survivors of 9/11 are experiencing the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic due to unresolved health conditions that make them vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Other recent additions to the collection are two artist books created by Maria G. Pisano: Caudex Folium, and Hecatombe 9-11. These unique tactile objects convey the extensive physical and emotional impact of the 9/11 events.
Caudex Folium was inspired by The Survivor Tree and celebrates its return to the 9-11 National September Memorial Plaza in New York, after it was nursed back to health and replanted in 2010 between the two memorial pools.
The Callery pear tree was originally part of the World Trade Center and during the clean up and recovery after the 9/11 attacks, the tree, although badly burned, miraculously continued to sprout leaves. With the support of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the tree was moved to a nursery in Van Cortland Park in the Bronx to see if it could be saved. When it arrived it was 8 feet tall, today it rises to more than 30 feet. In March 2010, New York suffered a severe Nor’easter that uprooted the tree, but again it survived. In December 2010 the tree was moved to the 9/11 Memorial plaza and planted as a symbol of endurance and perseverance. In August 2011, just before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Irene hit New York City, damaging and uprooting many trees. The Survivor Tree again proved its fortitude and was not damaged.
Today the tree stands as a symbol of strength, resilience and the indestructible spirit of hope in adversity. It has become a focal point for visitors to reflect and pay their respect to this living symbol that can be shared by everyone. Caudex Folium is an edition of 10.
Hecatombe 9-11 is a memorial book, an attempt to come to terms with an experience that is a constant open wound. It incorporates all the victims’ names along with photographs of destroyed buildings and the impromptu memorials created by loved ones on downtown walls. The structure of the book symbolically reflects the two towers, which are connected by a wall of memorial images in the center accordion pages framed in black. It is dedicated to those who have sacrificed their lives to protect our freedoms. The book additionally incorporates a poem, details of the attacks, text reflecting on the day and subsequent responses, all written by the artist. The cover title is laser stenciled creating the symbolic void. Learn more about this work on the artist’s website.