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Environmental Impact of 9/11 Attacks

Rescue and recovery workers at the World Trade Center

Project: Environmental Impact of the 9/11 Attacks
Open-Content project managed by Derek, paxvector

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During the first 25 days of the rescue/recovery effort at the World Trade Center site, 800 policemen are provided with only paper masks. Printed on each of the masks is a disclaimer stating: “Warning, this mask does not protect your lungs.” [Guardian, 6/5/2002]

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Other events

The World Trade Center twin towers collapse—the south tower at 9:59 a.m. and the north tower half an hour later at 10:28 a.m. [CNN, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001; MSNBC, 9/22/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002] The collapses create huge dust clouds that roll through the streets of Lower Manhattan, breaking windows and forcing dust and debris into the interior of surrounding buildings.
Composition of dust - Chemicals and materials present in the billowing clouds include pulverized plaster, paint, foam, glass fibers and fragments, fiberglass, cement, vermiculite (used as a fire retardant instead of asbestos), chrysotile asbestos, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls, polychlorinated dibenzodioxins, polychlorinated dibenzofurans, pesticides, phthalate esters, brominated diphenyl ethers, cotton fibers and lint, tarry and charred wood, soot, rubber, paper and plastic. [Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Online, 9/15/2001; CNN, 11/4/2001; Lioy et al., 7/2002; US Geological Survey, 10/2002 pdf file] The dust has an extremely high pH. [US Geological Survey, 11/27/2001; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/2002]
Distribution of dust and debris - The debris will be distributed very unevenly throughout the city because of their varying weights. Dusts containing relatively heavy components, such as pulverized concrete and glass, will settle near the World Trade Center, whereas dust containing lighter components, like asbestos, will fall to the ground in greater relative concentrations at a further distance. Heavy metals—including zinc, strontium, lead and aluminum—will also be deposited a relatively large distance away from the disaster site. [Lioy et al., 7/2002; US Geological Survey, 10/2002 pdf file; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]
Composition of smoke/debris plume - Combustible materials buried in the rubble of the towers provides fuel for a fire that will burn until December. Many of the materials are made of substances that when burned release highly toxic fumes. According to Thomas Cahill, a professor of physics and engineering, “The debris pile acted like a chemical factory. It cooked together the components and the buildings and their contents, including enormous numbers of computers, and gave off gases of toxic metals, acids, and organics for at least six weeks.” [BBC, 9/10/2003; Reuters, 9/11/2003]
bullet The two towers contained as many as 50,000 personal computers, each containing small amounts of mercury and about 4 lbs of lead. The towers also contained roughly 300 mainframe computers. [Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 pdf file; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]
bullet Thousands of fluorescent lamps in the buildings contained mercury. [Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 pdf file; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]
bullet Thousands of chairs and other office furniture contained chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which pose dangers similar to PCBs. [Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 pdf file]
bullet Several of the WTC’s tenants are known to have had toxic materials on site. For example, there was a Secret Service shooting range that kept millions of rounds of lead ammunition on hand. And a US Customs lab had in its inventory thousands of pounds of arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium, and other toxic substances. [Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]
bullet Other products in the buildings included synthetic fabrics, plastics, laminates, the di-electric fluids that encase electrical cables, capacitors, electrical cable insulation and transformers. The toxins resulting from the combustion of these materials include toxic lead, volatile organic compounds, dioxins (see December 27, 2002), mercury, nickel, vandium, sulphur, PAHs, PCBs and furans. [Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 pdf file]
Distribution of smoke/debris plume - The aerosol plume will move from the WTC site in Lower Manhattan directly over Brooklyn where it will drop much of its toxic debris, contaminating the neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Park Slope and beyond. New York City Council member David Yassky, who is in Brooklyn campaigning on this day, will later recount in an interview with Newsday, “There was a film of dust on everything—on cars, stores, everywhere in Brooklyn Heights. If you were there, as I was, you saw several hours of debris rain down on your neighborhood.” [Newsday, 8/23/2002; Newsday, 9/30/2002]

Category Tags: Indoor remediation, Misuse of EPA standards, EPA's reponse, Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

The 47-story WTC Building 7 collapses. It housed New York City’s emergency command center, offices of the FBI, CIA, and various commercial offices. The collapse of the building buries an electrical substation containing more than 130,000 gallons of oil from transformers and high-voltage lines—most of which contain low levels of hazardous PCBs—that provides fuel for a fire that will burn for more than three months contaminating the city’s air with a number of toxins including dibenzo-p-dioxins, dibenzofurans, and other polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Hang, 11/26/2001; New York Daily News, 11/27/2001; New York Daily News, 11/29/2001; Stanford Report, 12/5/2001; Environmental Law, 12/26/2001; Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections, 1/9/2002; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]

Category Tags: Indoor remediation, Misuse of EPA standards, EPA's reponse, Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

Attorney Joel R Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project speaks with several emergency workers, police officers, firefighters, union representatives, office workers and residents. According to Kupferman, “All [express] serious concerns about the health hazards they now face firsthand. Some are having trouble breathing, some wheezing and coughing. Many are suffering with severe eye irritation and headaches.” [NY Environmental Law and Justice Project, 9/22/2001]

Entity Tags: Joel R Kupferman, New York Environmental Law and Justice Project

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

New York City Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen says that almost 4,000 firefighters who have participated in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center have complained of respiratory problems, but adds that long term effects of working at Ground Zero are uncertain. “We won’t know for a long period of time if there is any long term effect. Some might lead to asthma, some might lead to lung conditions,” One firefighter has been treated for allergic alveolitis, a rare lung inflammation. Von Essen’s comments follow a Newsweek interview with Dr. David Prezant, the chief pulmonary physician for the city’s fire department. Prezant explained to the magazine that thousands of firefighters require medical care for a range of illnesses, including coughs, sinus infections, lung trauma and severe asthma. Prezant, a professor at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, has referred to these ailments collectively as the “World Trade Center cough.” [CNN, 10/29/2001; CNN, 10/29/2001; New York Post, 10/29/2001; Newsday, 10/30/2001; BBC, 10/31/2001; New York Daily News, 11/20/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: David J. Prezant, Thomas Von Essen

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

New York City officials order the Police and Fire Departments to reduce the number of officers and firefighters involved in recovery efforts at any one time to 24 for each department, citing new concerns about air quality at the site. The announcement is met with criticism from members of the police and firefighters unions. “We were promised by the mayor and the fire commissioner that we wouldn’t give this up until we got everybody out,” Michael Carter, the vice president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, tells the New York Times. “To scale back to 24 people, that’s to say that this has become nothing more than a construction site.” Thomas Manley, the health and safety officer for the firefighters union, tells the Times that he does not believe the decision was really based on new concerns regarding air quality. He suggests the mayor wants to minimize the presence of the site in an effort to return business to the area. [New York Times, 11/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Thomas Manley

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers

Nicole Pollier, a legal intern at Center for Constitutional Rights, testifies before the Environment Committee of the New York City Council and discusses health concerns at the WTC recovery site. She says that the Center found that “virtually none of the people working at the WTC disaster site are or have been wearing any personal protective equipment,” which the organization attributes to a lack of organized training. Only 5-10 percent of the workers wear disposable dust masks, she said. Additionally, “workers leaving the site are not decontaminated, nor do they use the washing stations that have been set up at the perimeter of the site by volunteer organizations.” Pollier says the Center blames OSHA which has taken the position that the site’s designation as a “search and rescue” operation denies it the authority to enforce safety laws. There have been “no mandated training sessions, and no enforcement of personal protective equipment requirements or exposure monitoring requirements,” she explains. Instead, OSHA has played a consultative role as a technical adviser. Pollier says that the Center disagrees with OSHA’s position, calling attention to a 1991 directive entitled “OSHA Response to Significant Events of Potentially Catastrophic Consequences,” which states: “The OSH Act requires that OSHA respond to catastrophic events….” [New York City, 11/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Nicole Pollier, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers

American Medical News reports that doctors in New York City are still treating large numbers of patients for respiratory conditions stemming from the World Trade Center disaster. About one-third of all New York City firefighters have symptoms of what is now termed the “WTC cough,” typified by persistent dry unproductive coughs, wheezing, sinus irritation and shortness of breath. One-fifth of responding firefighters also complain of GERD (gastroentero reflux disease) which doctors believe may have been caused by ingesting the pulverized concrete and glass that was present in the World Trade Center dust. “What you inhale, you also swallow,” explains David J. Prezant, MD, deputy chief medical officer of the New York City Fire Department. “Your entire tongue was coated with this stuff.” Doctors believe these health problems were caused in part by the shortcomings of protective breathing masks, which are not supposed to be worn for days on end. [American Medical News, 11/26/2001; Newsday, 9/10/2002; Newsday, 9/30/2002]

Entity Tags: David J. Prezant

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

Thomas Manley, who monitors health issues for the firefighters union, tells reporters that 500 of the union’s members are on sick leave because of a variety of respiratory problems. Three hundred of them may never be able to fight fires again as a result of their medical conditions. “It’s getting worse and worse,” he says. “They’re having trouble breathing, shortness of breath, coughing with pain in their stomach.” The union claims the illnesses could have been prevented if proper respirators had been provided to firefighters working at the World Trade Center site. [NY1 News, 12/21/2001; Associated Press, 12/21/2001]

Entity Tags: Thomas Manley

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

Attorney Michael Barasch tells the Associated Press that he has filed legal notices on behalf of 700 firefighters and 300 police officers, fire marshals and emergency medical technicians, who have developed respiratory conditions after working at the World Trade Center disaster site. The legal notices are meant to preserve the plaintiffs’ right to sue the City of New York at a later date on the premise that the city failed to follow federal regulations and provide the appropriate respirators to the rescue workers at the disaster site. [Associated Press, 1/13/2002; Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Michael Barasch

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

A mobile health unit at Ground Zero offers free health examinations for immigrant workers and day laborers hired to clean office buildings in Lower Manhattan. The medical team, headed by Dr. Steven Markowitz, conducts pulmonary testing of workers, collects blood and urine samples, and interviews them about their work history. By March 1, the mobile unit will examine 415 workers, primarily from Colombia and Ecuador. Markowitz later tells Newsday that workers said employers had provided them with mops, rags and bags for removing inches of dust from buildings. “Most said they were not given protective equipment,” Newsday reports. Some workers who brought their own respirators said employers told them not to wear such protection.” [Newsday, 4/28/2002]

Entity Tags: Steven Markowitz MD

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

By this date, more than two-thirds of the 62 rescue workers who came from Menlo Park, California, have complained of respiratory problems. [Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 pdf file; Mercury News (San Jose ), 2/4/2002; Associated Press, 10/29/2003]

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

Dr. Steven Markowitz, who directed a mobile health unit targeting immigrant workers hired to clean office buildings near Ground Zero (see January 14, 2002-March 1, 2002), speaks at an immigrant labor conference at the CUNY School of Law in Flushing, New York, sharing his team’s findings. The team identified over 400 workers suffering from a variety of ailments. “One of the most striking findings is the persistence in symptoms, even after workers were no longer exposed to dust,” Dr. Markowitz reports. “Many had stopped working [near Ground Zero] two months earlier, and when they came to the van, they still had symptoms.” He says that most of the workers had symptoms consistent with the inhalation of crushed glass like chronic cough, coughing up of blood, sore throats, nasal congestion and chest pain. Other workers had symptoms that are more difficult to explain, like headaches, fatigue, dizziness and poor appetites. Markowitz admits that his team has “no idea” what the cause of those symptoms are. [Newsday, 4/28/2002]

Entity Tags: Steven Markowitz MD

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

By this time, 358 New York City firefighters and paramedics are on sick leave or light-duty because they have the “World Trade Center cough” (see November 26, 2001). [Newsday, 9/10/2002]

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

At a New York Academy of Medicine briefing, doctors discuss how the environmental conditions at Ground Zero during the recovery effort have so far impacted the health of those who worked at the site. Dr. Steven Levin of the Occupational Medical Center at Mt. Sinai Medical Center explains that several of the more than 1,000 workers he has seen “have developed inflammatory responses” in their lungs and adds that he has seen only a few recover. Dr. Kerry Kelly, chief medical officer for the NYC Fire Department, says that while only 3 percent of New York City firefighters had respiratory problems prior to September 11, this number has since increased to 15.6 percent. Another speaker at the briefing, Lung Chi Chen of the NYU Department of Environmental Medicine, suggests that either the pulverized glass, the high pH level (see September 20, 2001), or a combination of the two, probably causes the World Trade Center cough. “We can show that human cells can tolerate acidic exposure very well,” Chen says in an interview. “But the cell cannot tolerate alkali exposure. You shift the pH up and the impact is devastating.” [Newsday, 9/10/2002; Newsday, 9/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Kerry Kelly, Lung Chi Chen, Stephen Levin MD

Category Tags: Expert opinions/Independent studies, Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

A panel of experts convene for two days, at the request of the EPA, and make recommendations for the EPA’s indoor cleanup program (see May 8, 2002) in Manhattan. The panel suggests expanding the testing to “include a wider array of toxic contaminants;” lowering “the EPA’s proposed danger benchmarks to take into account more vulnerable populations, such as children;” and establishing “safety standards for both residential and commercial buildings in Lower Manhattan.” [New York Daily News, 10/29/2002]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Indoor remediation, Rescue/recovery workers

To date, over 1,000 New York City firefighters have filed lawsuits against the City of New York claiming that the city failed to provide them with respirators during rescue and recovery efforts at the WTC. [Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

By this date, over 1,700 police officers and firefighters have filed lawsuits against the City of New York claiming that conditions at Ground Zero or the Fresh Kills landfill caused their illnesses, including sarcoidosis, asthma, reactive airway disorders, and chronic coughs. [New York Daily News, 6/24/2004]

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

James Zadroga, a detective who worked on the recovery effort at Ground Zero following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, dies. Zadroga was 34. According to the first report into his death, by the Ocean County medical examiner, Zadroga dies from a “history of exposure to toxic fumes and dusts.” This is apparently the first death following a long-term illness related to work at the WTC site. [New York Times, 4/12/2006]

Entity Tags: James Zadroga

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

A report finds that the death of former New York City detective James Zadroga (see January 5, 2006) was caused by exposure to dust during rescue attempts at Ground Zero. The report, by Gerard Breton of the medical examiner’s office in Ocean County, New Jersey, says, “It is felt with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the cause of death in this case was directly related to the 9/11 incident.” Before completing the report, Breton did not consult with doctors who had tested or treated other first responders at Ground Zero, although he did talk to Zadroga’s physician. Neither did he test particles found in Zadroga’s lungs to compare them with the dust from the World Trade Center. Nevertheless, Breton says, “I cannot personally understand that anyone could see what I saw in the lungs, and know that the person was exposed to Ground Zero, and not make the same link I made.” [New York Times, 4/14/2006] His conclusion will be disputed. [New Yorker, 9/15/2008] The report may have a wider impact, as several lawsuits have been brought by first responders and downtown residents alleging that the toxic mixture of dust and fumes at Ground Zero was deadly. In addition, the report may mean Zadroga’s death should be classified as “in the line of duty,” meaning his survivors would be eligible for more benefits. [New York Times, 4/14/2006]

Entity Tags: James Zadroga, Gerard Breton

Category Tags: Rescue/recovery workers, Documented cases WTC-related illness

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