9/11 victims identified from new DNA finds


James Randerson
The Guardian, Monday February 25 2008

This article appeared in the Guardian on Monday February 25 2008 on p17 of the International section. It was last updated at 00:00 on February 25 2008.

A fresh effort to identify victims of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre is under way in New York following the discovery of fragments of human remains in the area around Ground Zero.

So far a handful of people whose remains were not found in the initial trawl through the rubble have been identified. But forensic scientists hope that when DNA identification begins in earnest more victims will be found, scientists at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Washington DC were told on Saturday.

After the September 11 attacks, 1,597 of the presumed 2,789 victims were identified from the DNA of 19,946 pieces of human remains found in the rubble. In October 2006 a further discovery of remains prompted another forensic operation. "An electrical company was in this dead manhole trying to clean it out for the rebuilding effort," Dr Bradley Adams, of the New York Chief Medical Examiner's Office, told the meeting. "Someone said they had found what might be human remains." His team found 208 bone fragments in the manhole.

A report ordered by the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, called for a comprehensive search of Ground Zero and a two-block radius. About 600 manholes and the interiors of five buildings were searched, and a 350-metre stretch of road built to provide access to the Ground Zero construction site was excavated.

The excavated material was mechanically sorted to separate out fine-grained particles, and then 75 anthropologists sorted the rest by hand. In all, they discovered 1,796 pieces of human remains. The sorting operation was wound up in December and DNA work is just beginning.

"We've made numerous links to previously identified victims," said Adams. "We also have new IDs that have come out of this project. Once the DNA testing really comes full circle it will be fascinating to see how many new IDs we get."