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USA Today

One more 9/11 victim to be named this year

By Amy Westfeldt,
Associated Press
By Henny Ray Abrams, AP
  Joseph Jones, whose wife Felicia Dunn-Jones died of lung disease five months after inhaling toxic dust in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, places flowers next to her name at the 9/11 Memorial on Staten Island, New York on Thursday.
By Henny Ray Abrams, AP
  Jones poses with a portrait of himself and his late wife at the 9/11 Memorial Thursday. Felicia Dunn-Jones' name has been added to the list of victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center and will be read on the sixth anniversary Tuesday.

Every Feb. 10 — the day she died of lung disease — Jones lays flowers at her grave in Staten Island. On Sept. 11 — the day the World Trade Center collapsed and she inhaled the toxic dust cloud that enveloped lower Manhattan — Jones watches television at home, listening to 2,749 names of the financial workers, firefighters, parents and children who were killed in the attack.

For the first time on Tuesday, Jones is going to a small park southeast of ground zero, where he will stand for hours with those victims' families marking the sixth anniversary and hear the name of his wife, Felicia Dunn-Jones, who died just five months after the towers fell. He is not sure how he will feel.

"It's just a sense of sadness, really," he said. "It's just a sense of acknowledgment that ... her death was caused by events happening that day."

The addition of Dunn-Jones, a 42-year-old civil rights attorney, to New York City's Sept. 11 death toll occurred in a year that sharply focused on post-Sept. 11 illness — and the legacy of the cleanup of ground zero — more than ever before.

That legacy was painfully altered by the unearthing of several hundred human remains from streets and sewer lines around the trade center site, which officials acknowledged were missed the first year. Doctors published more studies establishing direct links to respiratory illnesses and the exposure to the mixture of pulverized concrete, asbestos, mercury and other toxins that wafted over ground zero for close to a year. One study showed a powerful connection to sarcoidosis — the lung-scarring disease that killed Dunn-Jones — and city firefighters.

"I don't think anyone's questioning any more how many thousands of people are sick," said David Worby, who represents close to 10,000 plaintiffs suing the city and contractors who oversaw ground zero's cleanup. More than 100 of his plaintiffs have died, he says.

City officials have argued that more research is needed before the true health effects of Sept. 11 can be proven. But they significantly changed their position this year, commissioning a health panel that concluded in February that treating the ailments of exposed workers could cost close to $400 million a year.

"We are not about to abandon the men and women who helped lift our city back onto its feet during our greatest time of need," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the time.

Three months later, city Medical Examiner Charles Hirsch surprised many by adding Dunn-Jones' name to the official Sept. 11 victims' list.

Citing "accumulated scientific research" that linked sarcoidosis to ground zero exposure, Hirsch wrote in May, "the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has thus concluded that Mrs. Dunn-Jones' exposure to World Trade Center dust on 9/11/01 contributed to her death and it has been ruled a homicide."

His ruling did not bring her husband money — he had already received over $2 million from special master Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the federal fund that compensated Sept. 11 victims. Jones just sought recognition that her death was caused by Sept. 11 to allow him to hear her name read at anniversary ceremonies and etched onto the Sept. 11 memorial.

"Feinberg said she was a victim of the terrorist attacks. If she was a victim of the terrorist attacks, her name should be on the list," said Jones, 55, although he added he understands why more people haven't waged similar fights. "Sometimes people just don't want to get involved. It's hard enough losing somebody."

On Sept. 11, while Jones watched planes hit the towers from the Staten Island Ferry terminal, Dunn-Jones tried to escape her office a block from the north tower. She put a piece of clothing over her face but couldn't keep the choking, white dust out of her lungs, Jones said.

She developed "just this crazy, persistent cough," mostly at night, Jones said. She was diagnosed with asthma and kept working at the U.S. Department of Education, going on a four-day field trip to upstate New York the weekend before her death and keeping up trips to the gym three times a week.

She woke up tired on the morning she died, barely ate and died that afternoon in her teenage daughter's bed after asking her husband to bring her some tea. An autopsy later found she had had a heart attack brought on by sarcoidosis.

"It wasn't a familiar term to me," said Jones. His attorney learned that sarcoidosis had been linked to toxic exposure and appealed to Feinberg, and then to the city medical examiner. Three years ago, Hirsch denied the request to change her death certificate.

"He thought that Felicia's death didn't meet the criteria. Even though we had gotten the award and everything, he said it was a murder scene" and Dunn-Jones did not belong on the victims' list, Jones said.

Dunn-Jones was added to Staten Island's Sept. 11 memorial first in 2005, but "we still hadn't given up on the 9/11 thing," he said.

After receiving letters from Feinberg, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney and others, Hirsch reached a new decision on May 23.

No mention of the date of Dunn-Jones' death will be made at the Sept. 11 ceremony, or how she died. "Felicia Gail Dunn-Jones" will be read by one of many firefighters and first responders selected this year to recite the names of victims, which have grown to 2,750 in New York, and 2,974 for all who died on that day.

But others are seeking similar recognition. Since Dunn-Jones was added, the medical examiner's office has declined to change the cause of death for four others who died of illnesses they attribute to Sept. 11, and is considering two others, including Cesar Borja, a police officer who died of lung disease in January.

One of them is believed to be the case of James Zadroga, a 34-year-old police detective who spent hundreds of hours at ground zero, and who died last year of respiratory disease. A New Jersey medical examiner ruled last year that Zadroga's death was "directly related to the 9/11 incident."

"I think it just verifies he died from the World Trade Center, which (Mayor Michael) Bloomberg and federal officials have been denying since his death," said Zadroga's father, Joseph Zadroga.

Those federal officials — and even the researchers who have already published studies linking illnesses to ground zero exposure — have said it will take at least 20 years to truly assess Sept. 11's true death toll, the true list of names to be read the anniversary.

Zadroga says he, and others, can't wait for that.

"By the time the 20-year period comes most of the people will be dead," he said.