Ground Zero kids: A terrible legacy

Amit Friedlander attended Stuyvesant High School across the street from Ground Zero. Four years later, he was diagnosed with cancer.

Despite a cordoned-off pile of toxic rubble across the street, Amit Friedlander believed his senior year was safe. But four years later, the Stuyvesant High School class president was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a cancer he believes stemmed from inhaling Ground Zero’s toxic fumes.

Friedlander, now a healthy 27-year-old hedge fund analyst, is one of about 30,000 New Yorkers who were under 18 and regularly breathed the air near Ground Zero, according to victims’ advocacy group 9/11 Environmental Action. Today, the group is hosting a public forum about the effects 9/11 had on children’s health.

“Any child who had a real exposure at that time, who was in the dust cloud, or who had repeated dust exposure, I’d be pretty concerned for those kids,” said Dr. Elizabeth Fiorino, a World Trade Center Environmental Health Center pediatric pulmonologist.

After 9/11, Lower East Side resident Maria Muentes noticed her baby daughter, Alexia, coughing constantly; she then developed bronchitis. “Over the years, it seemed to get worse instead of better,” she said.

Now, Alexia, 11, regularly visits the WTC program at Bellevue Hospital Center. She gets government-funded treatment that was extended under the 9/11 health bill, passed in December.

Children of responders also seek psychological treatment after watching their parents become ill.

Long Islander Cyndi George said she worries about her two daughters, exposed to toxins when they hugged their father Ken after he came home dusty from Ground Zero.

“How do they deal with the fact if anything does happen to him?” George said.

Children at risk

Any child exposed to Ground Zero’s toxic fumes — whether from inhaling downtown air or touching a responder’s dusty coat — can enter the WTC program.

“We worried about very young children crawling around on contaminated carpets, kids jumping up and down on contaminated sofas,” said Kimberly Flynn, 9/11 Environmental Action director.

“There’s no question this happened.”

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