Weight of Dust Podcast

Amy Gaines, her father Scott Gaines and Amy’s quest in the form of a PBS podcast to find answers about her dad’s various cancers are the subject of Patrice Taddonio’s Frontline article “A Daughter, Her Father, 9/11 and “The Weight of Dust””. 

FRONTLINE began their podcast series the year after Scott’s diagnosis and Amy thought the subject of 9/11-related illness would provide her with the opportunity to practice her interview skills and get to know more about her father’s health issues and exposure to the deadly cocktail of chemicals and dust at Ground Zero. Through the making of the episode which is titled “The Weight of Dust”, Amy learned what the dust was composed of and how the government handled and mishandled the fallout from 9/11. Amy’s podcast was posted on December 13, 2018 and can be heard on The FRONTLINE Dispatch here.

The article starts at the beginning of a long and painful road that ends for many first responders, including Scott Gaines, with 9/11-related illness and death. Amy was 8 years old on September 11, 2001 when her dad, who was set to retire from the NYPD, was called into action. After the second plane flew into the World Trade Center and the towers collapsed, the surrounding area was covered with a toxic dust that would eventually claim the lives of an astounding number of people who were exposed to it. 

Amy grew up not asking her dad about that time and he didn’t seem to like to talk about it. But after Scott received a diagnosis of tonsil cancer in 2016 that changed. Amy wanted to learn all she could about his experiences and exposure to toxins while at Ground Zero. In addition to recording many conversations with her dad, she interviewed others who were also exposed, advocates of compensation programs and those making decisions about the aftermath of 9/11, including the head of the Environmental Protection agency at the time, Christine Todd Whitman.

The heart of the podcast, though is the personal effect that 9/11 had on her and the rest of her family. The disease her father developed as a result of exposure to harmful dust while performing a job that came naturally to him. During the interview process with her dad, Amy was able to eventually convince him that sharing the painful details with her was not a burden but a help. His instincts to protect her was in his nature.

He was in the Air Force before he was NYPD and he was a volunteer fire fighter before that, So this kind of lifetime of service to others, and that’s the mentality: You go out, you do your job, and you come home, and you don’t talk about it … he would tell us the fun stories, not the tough stories.
— Amy Gaines

Amy took several months to grieve after Scott died in September of 2017-sixteen years following 9/11, before returning to work on the podcast episode. In the end, she is hoping her dad’s words touch those who continue to suffer from 9/11-related illnesses and let them know they’re seen and heard.

Photograph by Andrea Booher via FEMA

Read the FRONTLINE article here: bit.ly/WeightofDust