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What was in the World

What was in the World Trade Center chemical plume created at Ground Zero on “9/11”? By George Lane, Emergency Response Technology Fifteen years later, what exactly residents and rescue workers were exposed to remains at least a partial mystery. The smell cannot be forgotten. Any smoky mix of burning plastic can instantly bring back memories for locals of the aftermath of the collapse of the two towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. 91,000 liters of jet fuel and the 10,000,000 tons of building materials and contents burning at temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius extended from lower Manhattan across the East River into Brooklyn and beyond to the sea. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, exposed thousands of Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) rescue workers to dust, leading to substantial declines in lung function in the first year. So what exactly was in that smoke and dust? The real answer to that question will never be known as few direct measurements were taken of the plume that followed the disintegration of the two towers into a blizzard of dust, though air samples were collected in subsequent weeks and months. Regardless, the then administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and former governor of New Jersey Christie Whitman said on September 13, 2001, “EPA is greatly relieved to have learned that there appears to be no significant levels of asbestos dust in the air in New York City.” She added: “We will continue to monitor closely.” And five days later, she announced: “I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C., that their air is safe to breath [sic].” 1 Knowing what was in the dust suggests what may have caused the ailment dubbed “World Trade Center or WTC Cough” by the New England Journal of Medicine, which doctors at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York estimate afflicted nearly half of those who worked at the site. Ultimately, the EPA determined that the air around “Ground Zero” was harmless, despite the agency’s findings concerning levels of asbestos and dioxin, at least to civilians living and working in the vicinity, if not the rescue workers. “Except for inhalation exposures that may have occurred on 9/11 and a few days afterwards, the ambient air concentration data suggest that persons in the general population were unlikely to suffer short-term or long-term adverse health effects caused 12 by inhalation exposures,” EPA scientists wrote in their analysis published in 2007. 2 “It was such a horrific event,” says environmental scientist Paul Lioy of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute in New Jersey, who was contacted by both the federal government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to collect samples of the pulverized remains of the Twin Towers in the days following the attack. “What was the contribution of the gases [from combustion]?” The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, now known as “9/11”, and its consequent collapse killed 2,751 persons, including 343 rescue workers employed by the Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) and exposed thousands of persons to a dense, persistent dust cloud of pulverized building materials and chemical by-products of combustion or pyrolysis. 3 The FDNY rescue workers who responded to the World Trade Center site during the collapse or the subsequent 10-month rescue-and-recovery operations had substantial loss in pulmonary function during the first year after the event, more than 12 times the annual age-associated rate. The

largest decline was observed among workers who arrived at the site on the morning of “9/11”, and there were larger declines among firefighters than among emergency medical services workers. 4 Among non-FDNY rescue workers, volunteers, and residents of lower Manhattan who were exposed to World Trade Center dust, abnormal results on spirometry, a common office test used to assess how well your lungs work by measuring how much air you inhale, how much you exhale and how quickly you exhale, were common and persisted during a 3-year follow-up. However, health records were not available before “9/11” to determine the extent of new versus preexisting abnormalities. 5 During the “9/11” attack on the WTCs, urban chemical warfare was introduced to America. Thousands were hospitalized with a “pulmonary edema”, an indicator of what became known as the “WTC Cough”. 6 “FEV1”,” forced expiratory volume” in 1 second, is the volume exhaled during the first second of a forced expiratory maneuver started from the level of total lung capacity. FEV1 was used to assess airway obstruction, bronchoconstriction, or bronchodilatation. 7,8 “Ground Zero” smoldered until December 19, releasing fumes that researchers collected in air samples. The debris pile acted like a chemical factory. It cooked together the components of the buildings and their contents, including enormous numbers of computers, and gave off gases of toxic metals, acids and organics. The “WTC Cough” was named by Dr. David Prezant, medical director of the New York City Fire Department, in a September 12, 2002, study in the New England Journal of Medicine. He and his colleagues reported that firefighters who had worked at the World Trade Center site within the first three days of September 11 were most likely to display these symptoms, no doubt from massive exposure to a variety of toxic chemicals. Those who required at least four consecutive weeks of medical leave as a result of the sickness were diagnosed with “World Trade Center Cough”. A 2005 study of 2,812 residents living near the World Trade Center published in the Journal Environmen- 13 tal Health Perspectives found that coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath were reported in three to six times greater numbers among people living within one mile of the World Trade Center site than among those who lived more than five miles away. More recent studies of patients who have sought treatment for September 11-related respiratory illness suggest that years later, they still have a greater risk for abnormal lung function. But it is hard to know what the real numbers are. Unlike firefighters, who receive care through the New York City Fire Department and whose health status before and after September 11 has been well-documented, the health of residents and local workers hasn’t been well-tracked. The “James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act”, signed into law by President Obama in early 2011, establishes the “World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program”. It ensures that those affected by “9/11” continue to receive monitoring and treatment services for “9/11”-related health problems through at least 2015. The “WTC Health Program” consists of a Responder Program (for rescue and recovery workers, including more than 15,000 New York City firefighters) and a Survivor Program (for those who lived, worked or went to school in lower Manhattan on “9/11”). Services also are available for responders to the Pentagon and Shanksville,

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