On September 11th, 2001, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City. Thousands of lives were lost as the towers collapsed rapidly, and our nation watched in horror as their friends and family members were claimed by one of the most devastating blows our nation has ever experienced. As the towers collapsed, they left nothing but debris and rubble, later to be known as "ground zero". Rescue teams were quickly formed of policemen, firefighters and volunteers, who worked to save as many lives as possible after the attacks.
However, while the heroic efforts to rescue those trapped in the debris were of the bravest our nation has ever seen, few realized that deadly toxins, like asbestos, were released into the air after the towers collapsed. These poisonous air pollutants have been known to cause lung cancer and the deadly mesothelioma.
Thousands of people were exposed to the airborne toxins after the attack on the World Trade Center, including those who survived the collapse, first responders, those who lived near the towers, and even the workers who were hired to help clean up the rubble left behind. Additionally, as the debris and damaged buildings found at ground zero burned for several months after the attacks, thousands of heavy metals and carcinogens such as barium, mercury and asbestos, were released into the atmosphere.
Countless people exposed to the pollution are suffering from symptoms of respiratory illnesses today, years after the attacks, like difficulty breathing, coughing, asthma, and even lung cancer and mesothelioma. As the years pass, more and more it has become obvious that more and more of our citizens have been infected with cancer and respiratory disease.
While still considered to be rare, instances of mesothelioma have undoubtedly increased in number. Asbestos, an organically occurring mineral, is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Once mined and used industrially because of its resistance to heat and flexibility, the health effects of the mineral were not fully understood until the later part of the twentieth century. Because of this, asbestos was used throughout the 1900's in building and construction materials, shipyards, and automobiles. Additionally, because asbestos is a mineral found on most continents worldwide, very small quantities exist in our atmosphere naturally. However, after the World Trade Center collapsed, the levels of airborne asbestos found in New York City were approximately 93,000 times higher than the typical amount of asbestos found it the air, making the risk of both exposure and illness extremely high.
The New York State Department of Health released a study in the beginning of 2008, stating that in the seven years since the attacks on the World Trade Center, approximately 200 of those initially exposed to the pollutants at ground zero have passed away. The study also states that at least 55 of these workers were victims of lung cancer, and of all those exposed to the dust and debris after the attacks, at least 62% of people report trouble breathing and other respiratory complications. For more information on lung and asbestos cancer please see the resources at Asbestos.com.
While the use of asbestos in buildings has been banned in most cases for many years, it can be difficult to understand why there were so many toxins released into the air after September 11th. When the New York Port Authority first began building the World Trade Center, the lower 40 floors of the building were originally supposed to be crafted using 5,000 tons of asbestos fireproofing to help support the buildings. However, as the health hazards associated with asbestos exposure became better known, builders decided to not to construct the building using the amount of asbestos they initially had planned to. Later on after the buildings were completely erected, more than half the asbestos originally used was replaced with safer materials. Today, it has been suggested that the twin towers may not have collapsed as rapidly as they did had there been a larger amount of asbestos used in their construction. However, using a greater quantity of asbestos would only release greater quantities of the asbestos fibers into the air, making illness and disease even more common.
Though much of the asbestos initially used during building was removed from the World Trade Center, it was still one of the most common materials used in the erection of the towers. Because of this, the attack caused over 2,000 tons of microscopic asbestos fibers to be released into the air. Workers were advised that the fibers are invisible to the naked eye, and to wear protective equipment which would help keep them safe from exposure. However, many of those who were at ground zero, including volunteers, on lookers, first responders and rescue workers, were not wearing safety equipment and were exposed to asbestos fibers without their knowledge.
When ingested or inhaled, asbestos fibers become lodged in the mesothelial tissue in the body, or the protective membranes that line the body’s internal organs. While mesothelioma is most commonly found in the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), it can also affect the lining of the heart (pericardial mesothelioma), and the lining of the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma). When exposure to asbestos occurs, the fibers enter the body and act like splinters in the mesothelial membranes. Over time, as scarring and irritation occur, symptoms of respiratory illness will also become present. These symptoms include difficulty breathing, coughing, fever, and chest pain.
However, mesothelioma has an extremely long latency period, meaning that the disease oftentimes has no symptoms whatsoever for 10-15 years after the initial exposure to asbestos occurred. Even worse, mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose because of the vagueness of the symptoms, and because patients fail to inform their physicians of exposure to asbestos. For more information on pleural mesothelioma and mesothelioma treatment please see the resources at Asbestos.com.
Every year, over 10,000 people in the United States die from complications related to asbestos exposure. If you or someone you know was exposed to the dust and debris near ground zero, or if you were a first responder or worker at the site, it is extremely important that you visit your physician promptly for a health screening and testing. Inform your doctor that you may have been exposed to asbestos. When asbestos-related ailments are caught early, the possibility of treatment is much greater and your disease can be more easily managed.
Today, both first responders and workers who helped to remove the debris from ground zero have the option of participating in the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program. Completely confidential and free, this program has been created to help those who were exposed to the dust and rubble to be tested for health problems related to their exposure. Please visit The Asbestos and Mesothelioma Center for more information on mesothelioma and lung cancer.