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CDC exhibit examines health effects from 9/11 attacks

The CDC partnership with the WTC Health Program raises awareness of the physical and mental effects of the attacks and the treatment


CDC Museum Director Judy Gantt stands in front of portraits of members of the WTC Health Program at “The Health Effects of 9/11" exhibit at The David J. Sencer CDC Museum

Natrice Miller/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS

By Donovan J. Thomas
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — Of all the sights and sounds of 9/11′s aftermath, Dr. Mary Reynolds said she remembers the smell of burnt metal the most.

Reynolds was in her mid-30s, working as a newly minted Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, also commonly referred to as a “disease detective,” for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when the attack took place.

She recalls the clouds of black smoke that ruined what she described as an otherwise idyllic September day. Those clouds also carried long-term health impacts for emergency workers and bystanders, which would quickly become her work. She was sent to emergency rooms across Manhattan to investigate the health problems people were having from their exposure to toxins, debris and smoke from the scene.

“I was terrified, but I was just so happy to have the opportunity to do something,” said Reynolds. “It was a time that Americans felt so helpless and sad. So it was great to have the opportunity to be up there contributing.”

Reynolds and other CDC workers with a connection to 9/11 gathered last week to help open a new exhibition focused on the lingering health effects for people who were there that day. The exhibition opens Monday — the 22nd anniversary of the catastrophic event — at the David J. Sencer CDC Museum at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Clifton Road.

The exhibition was developed through a partnership between the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program, the CDC Museum and the 9/11 community to raise awareness about lingering health effects of that day. Since the attack, nearly 80,000 people experience physical and mental health conditions related to exposure to traumatic events, many due to debris, dust and smoke caused by the fall of the twin towers.

In Georgia, 900 residents are currently being monitored or treated through the WTC Health Program. The program was created to provide 9/11 responders and survivors with free treatment of conditions related to the event. The program is funded through the year 2090.

In addition to treatment, the WTC Health Program funds $22 million in annual research to answer ongoing questions about 9/11 physical and mental health conditions and how to effectively treat them.

The new exhibition, “The Health Effects of 9/11,″ will run through April 26, 2024 and is also available for viewing online.

Before viewing the exhibit, current CDC employees who participated in the organization’s 9/11 response spoke about how their experience doing so has shaped their continued work with the agency.

Anthony Gardner, a public affairs specialist at the WTC Health Program, recalls vividly searching for his older brother in the days after 9/11. Like countless others looking for their missing loved ones, he carried a poster he created with his older brother’s photo and personal information.

He would soon discover that his brother, Harvey Joseph Gardner III, who was working on the 83rd floor of the north tower, did not make it out that day. He says he’s been involved in raising awareness for victims, survivors and responders on a range of 9/11 issues since that day.

“As the World Trade Center Health Program continues our mission to provide compassionate medical care and treatment to our over 125,000 members, we draw inspiration every day from their stories of healing and resilience,” Gardner said. “This new exhibition offers CDC museum visitors an opportunity to learn and reflect on the lingering impacts of 9/11.”

After the disaster, Capt. Lisa Delaney was a fellow working at CDC headquarters in Atlanta when she was enlisted to work in an impromptu Emergency Operations Center. From there, she deployed the first CDC team from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to provide support in 9/11′s aftermath. Delaney now leads NIOSH’s Emergency Response and Preparedness Office, an office created in response to 9/11 to protect workers responding to public health emergencies and natural disasters.

“It’s really a full circle moment,” she said when she spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about her journey to heading the office. “It’s something that I feel really passionate about, I think, largely because I had a firsthand seat to see how workers can be impacted because of 9/11 and not wanting that to happen again.”

Delaney remembers the news replaying video of the attack all day. It would become one of the worst of many disasters she helped respond to afterward.

“The silver lining is that we now have structures in place to help coordinate emergency preparedness and response,” she said.

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