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Dust, Debris at World Trade Center Site May Have Made Workers Sick

A Mt. Sinai report found 60 percent of Sept. 11 first responders who breathed contaminated dust and smoke at the World Trade Center attack site now suffer from respiratory problems. The NewsHour reports on lingering health problems and help given to the aid workers.

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  • TOM BEARDEN, NewsHour Correspondent:

    Clouds of toxic dust rolled down New York City streets like tidal waves on September 11, 2001, engulfing tens of thousands of people fleeing the collapse of the World Trade Center.

    In the months that followed, thousands more labored in what they called "the pile," first trying to rescue people, and later recovering human remains. And all the while, they inhaled the dust.

    Philip Landrigan is the chairman of preventive medicine at Manhattan's Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

    DR. PHILIP LANDRIGAN, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine: The major component of the World Trade Center dust was pulverized concrete — cement — which was very, very alkaline, had a pH of 10 or 11, which means that the alkalinity of this material is equivalent to that of Drano.


    The dust also contained billions of microscopic shards of glass and other contaminants. The question is: What did the dust do to those who inhaled it?

  • JOHN WALCOTT, Former Police Detective:

    You trudged through, you know, this debris and smoke. And half of the street was sunny, the other half was a dark cloud, you know, debris up to my thighs.


    NYPD Detectives John Walcott and his partner, Richard Volpe, spent hundreds of hours at the Trade Center.

  • RICHARD VOLPE, Former Police Detective:

    Basically, I didn't have a shovel or anything. I just started digging with my hands and going through the rubble and picking up, you know, twisted metal and stuff like that, just trying to find somebody.


    They believe the experience is slowly killing them.


    I ended up with AML leukemia, which is mainly caused by exposure to benzene, which we all know is in airline fuel.


    How about you?


    I was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, which is basically the filters in my kidneys, they don't filter out the toxins in my body. Right now, I'm sitting here with less than 40 percent function in both my kidneys.