When two jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New
York City on Sept. 11, 2001, killing more than 3,000 people, a
black cloud of smoke hung over Manhattan, Brooklyn and parts of
New Jersey for days. When the twin towers fell, thousands of tons
of concrete disintegrated into dust, mixing with jet fuel, asbestos
and other chemicals to form a wide and highly toxic pile of debris.
five-year report of the disaster from the Mt. Sinai-Irving J.
Selikoff Clinical Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine
concluded that combustion of 90,000 liters of jet fuel from the
two planes created a plume of smoke with harmful volatile organic
compounds and metals. The dust cloud generated by the collapse
of the buildings at the World Trade Center contained thousands
of tons of particulate matter include dust from cement, glass
fibers and asbestos, as well as lead, polychlorinated biphenyls,
organochloric pesticides, polychlorinated dioxins and furans,
the report said.
Many of those toxins are believed to cause cancer.
Days after the disaster, the White House and the Environmental
Protection Agency issued statements saying the air was safe and
that people living and working in the area should not worry.
However, an Aug. 21, 2003 report from the EPA's Office of Inspector
General said the agency "did not have sufficient data and
analyses to make such a blanket statement."
Emergency response workers, including firefighters, police officers,
medical teams and volunteers who rushed to the scene to help,
were at the highest risk from the toxins at Ground Zero. More
than 340 firefighters and 23 police officers died when the buildings
collapsed, but those who survived suffered from upper respiratory
ailments including severe cough, shortness of breath, asthma and
sinusitis, health officials said.
"Within 48 hours of the attack, the New York Fire Department
found that 90 percent of its 10,116 firefighters at the World
Trade Center site reported an acute cough," according to
a 2004 U.S. Government Accountability Office study.
The study suggested an additional 250,000 to 400,000 people were
exposed to debris, smoke and a mixture of other toxic materials
as a result of the disaster.
Data collected by medical and environmental institutions from
some 71,000 participants around the country show that debilitating
health issues still affect many of those involved in the clean-up
and rescue efforts at the site, as well as others who were in
The Mt. Sinai report said World Trade Center responders showed
respiratory and pulmonary abnormalities up to two-and-a-half years
after the attacks with further monitoring necessary to "track
persistence of those abnormalities and to identify late effects,
including possible malignancies."
The World Trade Center Health Registry's first survey, released
in November 2004, revealed that half of the participants reported
worsening nasal irritation or sinus problems. Based on the experience
of physicians from a consortium of medical centers, New York City's
health department expanded its clinical guidelines for adults
exposed at the attack site in August 2006. The new guidelines
extend beyond mental health problems to include methods for diagnosing
upper airway cough syndrome, asthma/reactive airways dysfunction
syndrome and gastric reflux disease caused by attack site exposure
to airborne and other pollutants.
New York detective James Zadroga, a 34-year-old Ground Zero worker,
may have been the first person to die from exposure. Zadroga died
in January 2006 from respiratory and brain complications his doctors
believed were a result of his work at the site, the New York Daily
Following Zadroga's death, New York Gov. George Pataki signed
legislation allocating funds to help cover the medical expenses
of first responders who suffer illnesses related to the disaster,
the paper reported.
Rescue workers weren't the only ones who suffered from the environmental
exposures that day.
A study conducted by the Columbia University Mailman School of
Public Health of babies born to women who were pregnant at the
time of the disaster and who were within two miles of the World
Trade Center in the month following Sept. 11 had lower birth weight
and were slightly shorter than babies born to women who were not
in the vicinity.
The study concluded that the effects may have been related to
the women's exposure to the "fine particulate matter derived
from the burning of materials during the explosion and fires,
construction debris and asbestos."
In Arlington, Va., where terrorists killed 184 people at the
Pentagon, no studies have been done to date on the environmental
health impacts of the attack.
In addition to the physical injuries sustained by the people
working and living around Ground Zero and the Pentagon, psychological
damage also has taken its toll. Post-traumatic stress disorder
was diagnosed in many people -- not just in New York or Washington,
but in many parts of the country, according to the GAO.
The federal government, which has acknowledged the presence of
dangerous toxins in the wake of the Sept. 11 disaster, has poured
funding into a variety of programs, including the Mt. Sinai and
Columbia studies to examine of the health effects of the disaster.
In March 2004, the National Institute of Occupational Safety
and Health established the WTC Responder Consortium, which brought
together organizations studying the environmental health effects
of the Sept. 11 disaster.
No funding, however, exists for these programs beyond 2009, meaning
there are no plans at this point to study the long-term health
Health experts have approached Congress for additional funding,
and in July 2006, New York Democrat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
urged the Senate to fund worker health monitoring programs into
"[The Federal Emergency Management Agency] needs to create
a long-term recovery entity which can be available to states that
are overwhelmed and to ensure that our police officers, firefighters,
first responders, workers or other volunteers whose medical and
mental health is impacted in a disaster are not cast aside in
the debris pile but rather that they are given the care they deserve,"
Clinton told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Federal officials also say much more needs to be done.
"Almost five years after 9/11, we still do not have a good
understanding of the nature and extent of 9/11 contamination,"
said David Newman, an industrial hygienist for the New York Committee
for Occupational Safety and Health, and a member of the EPA's
now defunct WTC Expert Technical Review Panel.
"Neither EPA nor any other agency has designed or implemented
a systematic, comprehensive environmental testing program,"
Newman said. "Adequate investigation of potential 9/11-related
contamination of indoor residential spaces and workplaces has
yet to occur. As a result, our knowledge of the composition, concentration,
and dispersion of 9/11-related contaminants remains limited, as
does our ability to draw any scientifically valid conclusion of
safety or risk, whether previous or current."