Asbestos and Toxic Dust from 9/11—A Public Health Time Bomb?

Is WTC Dust a Public Disaster Waiting to Happen?

New York, NY - September 14, 2007 - A chemical cocktail of toxic dust containing carcinogens and asbestos could be a public health time bomb for many Ground Zero Workers. Many did not wear protective gear and breathed in the noxious dust from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. The World Trade Center's (WTC) collapse pulverized building material, releasing hazardous substances into the air which ultimately settled in Manhattan, and as far away as Brooklyn and even New Jersey. Most alarming is that the dust from the twin tower buildings contained asbestos, a natural fiber found in building materials, insulation and consumer products. Exposure to this fiber can cause severe, debilitating diseases such as deadly mesothelioma, asbestos lung cancer, andasbestosis.

The twin towers were built during the years 1968 to 1972, when asbestos was sprayed on beams, floors and ceilings as fireproofing material. About 100 tons of asbestos were used in the World Trade Center's construction, and released into the atmosphere upon its destruction. At the destruction site that has become known as "the Pile," many rescue workers-policemen, firemen, and volunteers-breathed in hazardous substances while searching through the rubble. Many workers remember being told by the EPA that the air was safe to breathe, and only half of them wore protective respirators. Since the rescue effort, Ground Zero Workers are experiencing a multitude of health problems from wheezing, shortness of breath, sinusitis, asthma, depression, and a persistent cough called the "World Trade Center" cough. (CBS News, September 12, 2007)

According to the National Cancer Institute, "One study found that nearly 70 percent ofWTC rescue and recovery workers suffered new or worsened respiratory symptoms while performing work at the WTC site. The study found that about 28 percent of those tested had abnormal lung function tests, and 61 percent of those without previous health problems developed respiratory symptoms." Many are worried that this is just the beginning, and that even more ominous health problems linked to the dust and asbestos fibers have yet to develop.

Asbestos Disease Time Line

In general, those who develop asbestos-related diseases will show no signs of illness during a latency period of 10 to 40 years. There is no maximum latency or time when the risk of developing asbestos-related disease disappears because the asbestos fibers that can cause disease remain trapped in the lungs for life. Also, there is no "safe" level of exposure to asbestos; even minimal levels may cause asbestos disease.