For 16 years, the tragic truth has been revealing itself. Hundreds of 9/11 first responders, recovery workers and residents of downtown Manhattan have been killed, and thousands more have been sickened, by the toxins released into the air after terrorists reduced the World Trade Center towers to dust.
Through tremendous effort of tireless advocates chronicled in these pages, the government finally accepted responsibility and established a federal compensation fund and health program.
Now comes a parallel development to that life-and-death breakthrough: making the story of these victims an intrinsic part of the memorial where the names and memories of the 9/11 dead reside.
Wednesday, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum unveiled renderings and plans for a new dedicated section of its main plaza for those sickened and killed by the poisonous plume.
It will not include names, because names are ever shifting. It must include a vivid sense of the depressing, and growing, scope of this crisis.
On 9/11, there were 343 firemen who perished along with 23 NYPD officers and 37 members of the Port Authority Police Department.
That toll of 403 heroes killed instantly in the falling towers will likely soon be eclipsed by the growing tally from the FDNY, NYPD and PAPD who have succumbed slowly in the intervening years from cancers and other death sentences.
Outside that circle of pain are volunteers from all 50 states, people who lived near the plume, and others. More than 40,000 are recognized as sick and hundreds are dead, a number that could at some point rival the nearly 3,000 killed on the day of the attacks.
Those who suffer and those who mourn have their own special place of quiet contemplation.
Designed by the same architects who built the sobering twin voids and sunken waterfalls, the renderings depict a new pathway through the nearby trees. Evoking the location of the ramp used by the rescue and recovery crews laboring on the Pile, six large stone structures will form a phalanx, or honor guard, on the path leading to the Survivor Tree, which lived through the day of death.