Sept. 11 workers face lasting health risks from Ground Zero toxic dust
Emergency workers and other personnel who were present at the site of the 9/11 attacks may be at risk of developing mesothelioma or other diseases from the toxic dust that was spread by the attacks. Ten years after the attacks, Ground Zero workers have already begun to show signs of respiratory diseases and other illnesses that may worsen into cancer or other conditions as time goes on.
According to a study conducted by scientists at Rutgers University (PDF), the dust that was spread after 9/11 contained a number of hazardous substances, including asbestos, gypsum, glass fibers, lead and other metal particles. Exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma—a deadly cancer of the chest or abdomen—and many other cancers or respiratory diseases. Gypsum—which is found in drywall—has been linked to respiratory problems, while lead and other metals can be toxic to the brain.
Because of the high amount of cement spread by the World Trade Center attacks, the pH in the dust spread on 9/11 had an extremely high pH, meaning it was highly alkaline. “That means it’s extremely caustic and would be like inhaling powdered lye or Drano,” said health expert Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Studies to examine the health of workers who were at Ground Zero in the wake of the 9/11 attacks have found increased risks of a number of respiratory and other diseases. According to a 2009 study conducted at Mount Sinai, 9/11 workers are twice as likely to suffer from asthma as the general population. Residents of lower Manhattan—where the World Trade Center was located—have also reported an increased asthma risk.
Health experts say that 9/11 responders have also been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and the “World Trade Center cough” due to the redness, irritation and swelling caused by the dust from the Twin Towers. Over time, these symptoms can worsen, leading to scar tissue or chronic lung diseases.
A study of firefighters who worked at the World Trade Center site following the 9/11 attacks found that they were 19% more likely to have been diagnosed with cancer than firefighters who were not present at Ground Zero. However, because mesothelioma and other cancers are not covered under the bill, individuals develop these diseases as a result of exposure to the toxic dust from the World Trade Centers will not be able to receive financial aide for their illnesses.
Although the recent bill to cover 9/11 workers (PDF) will provide much needed health care and financial compensation to these individuals, the lack of coverage for victims of mesothelioma, lung cancer and other cancers caused by exposure at Ground Zero neglects thousands of individuals who answered the call for America in its greatest hour of need.