Friday, February 8, 2008

Health News: A Dormant Danger in the Dust

As time elapses, the fateful and devastating effects of the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001 continue to unfold. Countless hopes and dreams went down with the collapsing World Trade Center towers­—an intangible loss that can never be calculated or aptly assessed. However, a looming concern regarding the health effects of the aftermath continues to rise.

When the World Trade Center (WTC) towers crumbled, a dust cloud containing more than 2,500 contaminants spread across the city—reaching as far as New Jersey. The toxic dust was composed of harmful elements such as construction debris, glass and other fibers, and poisonous compounds such as lead, mercury, and asbestos. Those living and working near the WTC and those who assisted in cleanup were gravely affected by this contaminated dust. Many of those exposed to the dust have experienced disquieting health issues, ranging from problems with breathing to various forms of cancer, the most common being lung cancer.

On January 6, 2008, the New York Post released the preliminary results of a study by the New York State Department of Health, which reported at least 204 rescue and recovery workers and volunteers have died since 9/11, falling victim to a range of cancers and other disorders. The lead researcher informed The Post that a total of 98 fatalities have been confirmed with death certificates. The research shows that 77 persons died of illnesses, including 55 deaths caused by lung and other cancers.

Lung cancer and various respiratory ailments seem to be the most common health issues facing those affected by the WTC attacks. In early April 2006, the Centers for Disease Control reported an alarming 62 percent of individuals caught in the toxic dust cloud are suffering with respiratory problems. Additionally, 46 percent of those living or working near the WTC that avoided the dust cloud have reported consistent respiratory problems.

An honorary keepsake saved by a WTC volunteer has illuminated a possible leading cause to the disconcerting lung ailments. Community liaison Yehuda Kaploun, who spent 48 hours volunteering immediately after the attacks at Ground Zero, saved the dress shirt he wore in a plastic bag to honor those lost on 9/11. Kaploun submitted the shirt to authorities in April 2006 with hopes that results of contamination would help volunteers get medical support for the diseases they are likely to develop or may have already developed.

Test results revealed the shirt contains a highly toxic level of chrysotile asbestos, otherwise known as white asbestos. The contamination was 93,000 times higher than the average amount found in U.S. cities, and also higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s reports of the most contaminated building after 9/11.

Kaploun’s shirt was also contaminated with mercury, barium, zinc, chromium, antimony, cobalt, copper, lead, and molybdenum. Heavy metals like these burned in the fires that lasted for nearly four months after the attacks.

With these disturbing levels of asbestos and other contaminants, it’s no wonder so many individuals associated with the aftermath are suffering with respiratory problems and lung cancer. How could such high levels of asbestos be recorded when the EPA banned and ordered a phase out of asbestos in 1989?

Completed in 1977, the WTC was originally designed to utilize 5,000 tons of asbestos-containing fireproofing on the first 40 floors of the buildings. Anticipating a ban on the use of asbestos in construction in New York, the builders stopped using the material after reaching the 40th floor on the north tower. A spokesperson from the New York Port Authority stated more than half of the asbestos-containing fireproofing was replaced at a later date.

Despite these measures, an estimated 2,000 tons of asbestos was released into the air in the form of fine dust. Microscopic asbestos compounds are easily inhaled, and due to its atomic structure, readily adheres to any substance and is indestructible by the human body. Once absorbed, asbestos sticks to the inner lining of the lungs, heart and stomach, and cannot be broken down or expelled by the body. Asbestos exposure could potentially lead to a variety of destructive and deadly illnesses, such as asbestosis and lung cancer. Exposure to asbestos over time can also lead to a very rare form of cancer, known as mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that develops in mesothelial cells, which form the protective membranous linings that surround the body’s organs, and line body cavities such as the chest. The most common forms of mesothelioma infect the pleura (outer lining of the lungs and chest cavity), the peritoneum (lining of the abdominal cavity), and the pericardium (a sac that surrounds the heart). Every form a mesothelioma, except the benign form, is most likely fatal, as beating the disease is exceptionally rare.

Unfortunately, mesothelioma is extremely difficult to diagnose in its early stages. Once an individual is diagnosed with mesothelioma, the cancer is usually in its late stages and is highly resistant to treatment. The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, and an individual’s risk for developing this cancer increases with extended exposure.

This elusive disease typically remains dormant for 20 to 50 years before symptoms begin to appear. Symptoms of mesothelioma are relatively non-specific and are often quite similar to symptoms of other diseases, which undoubtedly contributes to late diagnosis. For example, pleural mesothelioma, the most common form of the cancer, exhibits symptoms ranging from a persistent cough to night sweats or fever. These early warning signs are often misdiagnosed as pneumonia or influenza, allowing the cancer to develop and spread unnoticed.

Nearly 10,000 individuals in the United States die annually from asbestos-related diseases, such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. If you or anyone you know was near the WTC on 9/11, helped in the cleanup, or live or work near the site, you are advised to closely monitor your health and seek assistance from a licensed doctor. For additional resources on mesothelioma and mesothelioma treatment please see the resources at

If you have not done so already, it is not too late to contact The World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program. This program provides free and confidential monitoring examinations to workers and volunteers who responded to the WTC attacks. For the next five years, those who participate in the program will receive free medical examinations at regular intervals to monitor responder health. The program’s website,, offers more information on how to sign up and where to go for examinations.

For more information on asbestos, its uses and harmful health effects, please visit

Source: WRH

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