Century 21 workers who reopened after 9/11 now ill from Ground Zero


More than a dozen Century 21 workers who fought to reopen store after 9/11 are now suffering from Ground Zero illnesses: Two have already died from cancer

  • Century 21 workers who had fought to reopen their Downtown Manhattan store after 9/11 are now suffering from Ground Zero related-illnesses 
  • Over two decades later, the former employees at the now shuttered store are among those sick and dying after breathing in the toxic air for months after 9/11 
  • At least 15 of 600 employees who were working at the downtown location have registered with the WTC Health Program or the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund 
  • And two have already died from 9/11-related cancers
  • Another 12 Century 21 shoppers along with 19 first responders who conducted recovery operations inside the store have also applied for compensation 


Century 21 workers who had fought to reopen their Downtown Manhattan store after 9/11 are now suffering from Ground Zero related-illnesses.

Over two decades later, the former Century 21 employees at the now shuttered store are among those sick and dying after breathing in the toxic air that hung over Ground Zero for months after 9/11. 

At least 15 of the 600 employees who were working at the downtown location have registered with the World Trade Center Health Program or the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund with a 9/11 illness or cancer, lawyer Michael Barasch told the New York Daily News. 

And two have already died from 9/11-related cancers, Barasch added.

Meanwhile, another 12 Century 21 shoppers along with 19 first responders who conducted recovery operations inside the store have also applied for compensation. 

Cranes work on the rising foundation for 3 World Trade Center, Tuesday, November 22, 2011 in New York with the Century 21 department store is behind it

Cranes work on the rising foundation for 3 World Trade Center, Tuesday, November 22, 2011 in New York with the Century 21 department store is behind it

Construction continues at the World Trade Center site Friday, December 5, 2008 in New York. Century 21 department store, right, is covered in red light for the holiday season

Construction continues at the World Trade Center site Friday, December 5, 2008 in New York. Century 21 department store, right, is covered in red light for the holiday season

A new book has detailed the fight for healthcare for students poisoned by toxic air in wake of attack on the World Trade Center. Pictured, the Twin Towers as seen from the Stuyvesant bridge on 9/11 just before Stuyvesant High School was evacuated

A new book has detailed the fight for healthcare for students poisoned by toxic air in wake of attack on the World Trade Center. Pictured, the Twin Towers as seen from the Stuyvesant bridge on 9/11 just before Stuyvesant High School was evacuated 

Lori Ellis, 54, who was a senior manager for operations and merchandising at the Cortlandt Street location, remembers how she and her co-workers successfully reopened the department store five months later, becoming the first major retailer near Ground Zero to do so in the process.  

‘It smelled like burning plastic the whole time,’ she said of Lower Manhattan after reopening the store. 

‘But when you’re there, you get used to it. It’s like when you work at a fish market and you get used to the smell of fish.’ 

Ellis, who developed a rare form of skin cancer from her time working near Ground Zero, is one of many more employees that are currently going through the registration process.  

The exact amount of former Century 21 workers who have become ill or died from a 9/11-related illness remains unclear. 

Meanwhile, Ellis and other employees have been connecting with their former co-workers on social media, and are encouraging them to get tested for 9/11 illnesses.

‘People have died, but we don’t know if they died from a 9/11 illness or not,’ Ellis said.

Emergency workers at ground zero on September 11, 2001 after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City

Emergency workers at ground zero on September 11, 2001 after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City

Century 21 co-owner Sonny Gindi, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Century 21 CEO Al Gindi cut the ribbon which officially reopened the Century 21 store, February 28, 2002

Century 21 co-owner Sonny Gindi, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Century 21 CEO Al Gindi cut the ribbon which officially reopened the Century 21 store, February 28, 2002

Barasch added that there must be a way to track who worked down there in an effort to get more concrete numbers.

‘There are payroll records out there somewhere,’ Barasch explained. 

‘The store is not responsible for what happened, the federal EPA told them that the air was safe, but why aren’t these big companies reaching out to their former employees encouraging them to sign up?’

As many as 9,795 people were diagnosed with cancer linked to 9/11, the federal World Trade Center Health Program confirmed in 2018. 

In the years since, the retail chain has declared bankruptcy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, closing its last 13 department stores.  

However, it recently announced it would be opening several brick and mortar stores in the next few months.   

REVEALED: Nearly 10,000 people have suffered cancers linked to toxic dust from asbestos, jet fuel, cement and glass shards caused by 9/11 

As many as 9,795 people were diagnosed with cancer linked to 9/11, the federal World Trade Center Health Program confirmed in 2018. 

The New York Post initially reported the numbers – and spoke with health officials, rescue workers and survivors who were at the scene of the dangerous toxic dust caused by jet fuel, asbestos, cement and glass shards.

Medical director of the World Trade Center Health Program at Mount Sinai, Dr. Michael Crane, told the Post there has been a significant increase in the number of cancer patients since the program – which tracks 9/11 related diseases – began in 2013.

The program ‘provides medical monitoring and treatment for responders at the WTC and related sites in New York City, Pentagon, and Shanksville, PA, and survivors who were in the New York City disaster area,’ according to its website.

Crane told the Post: ‘We get these referrals 15 to 20 times a week.’

The health program reported 3,204 9/11-linked cancers in 2015. By the end of the next year, the figure rose to 8,188. In 2018, the number of incidents is nearing 10,000 with a figure of 9,795.

More than 1,700 responders and others have died as a result, including 420 specifically from cancer, according to the Post.

Epidemiology studies revealed that rescue and recovery workers have a ‘significantly higher’ risk of thyroid or bladder cancer and skin melanoma.

Leukemia and other blood-cell disorders are also of major concern, according to the report.

Non-rescue workers were reported to have ‘significantly higher rates of breast cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.’   

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