In September 2001, EHPs in America were raising serious concerns about levels of carcinogens and toxic chemicals in the air caused by incineration in the extreme heat after the collapse of the twin towers. The true composition of the dust cloud following the disaster will never be known due to it being carried away by wind. However, it is known to have contained a brew of burning jet fuel, fibreglass, metals, plastics and asbestos, among other things.
Nelson Fabian, executive director of the US National Environmental Health Association said at the time, “what most concerns us is that because there was such a fireball there must be toxic by-products from the combustion.”
Fifteen years after the event, the Uniformed Firefighters Officers Association (UFOA) reports that 1,396 of its members have cancers associated with exposures at Ground Zero, 5,723 have gastrointestinal issues and more than 5,500 have lower airway issues. Many of these current and former firefighters have two or more conditions.
Dr. Joan Reibman, medical director at the World Trade Center Environmental Health Center at Bellevue Hospital, has been working with 9/11 survivors for years. She told ABC News, “We see [digestive] disorders, chronic sinus inflammation, lung disease such as asthma, gastrointestinal diseases such as GERD; also clearly mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, anxiety.”
While the advice to rescue workers and clean up crews at the time was to wear breathing apparatus, including respirators, they were allowed to continue working without them - so as not to impede the search for possible survivors. Fires burnt at Ground Zero for up to 90 days after the disaster resulting in toxins appearing in dust weeks and months later.
According to the Centre for Disease Control an estimated 400,000 people would have been exposed to dust and debris including indoor dust from the persistent fires. As of this year 75,000 people have enrolled in the World Trade Centre Health Programme that provides federally funded monitoring and treatment of health problems stemming from 9/11. Out of this group 56,500 were first responders in the form of firefighters, police, ambulance crews and rescue and recovery workers. There is a fear that many more New York residents and workers have been affected by the aftermath, but may be in denial.
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