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Monday, September 12, 2016

Its Been 15 Years Since 9/11. 4 Things We Have Learned!

On September 11, 2001, two planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.  Those two planes caused the collapse of the buildings and the killing of 2,996 people and injuring over 6,000 others.  When they collapsed, a massive plume of dust was released into the air.  In addition, fires burned at Ground Zero for more than 90 days continuing to spew contaminants into the air.  Then-EPA chief Christine Whitman encouraged workers and residents to head back to Lower Manhattan saying the air was "safe to breathe.."  Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani repeated her claim by saying "to go back to normal" and the air around Ground Zero was "safe as far as we can tell, with respect to chemical and biological agents."  Though some experts, like Mount Sinai's Dr. Philip Landrigan, warned that it was not.

New York City pre-9/11
Will 15 years later we now know that Whitman did not have sufficient information to make that claim and recently has admitted she was wrong.  Studies of the dust have shown significant quantities of carcinogens, irritants, and poisons.  Contaminants like polyaromatic hydrocarbons, dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), fiberglass, lead, asbestos, volatile organic compounds, etc.  The pH of the dust was basic.  Records have shown the City knew of the hazards of the dust and air.  Expediency of the cleanup and the recovery was more important at Ground Zero, than protecting workers from the toxic dust at the site.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was only onsite acting in an advisory role and obviously had little impact on the health consequences of the workers.  As has been printed in numerous articles and pictures many did not wear the respirators they were provided or were provided the incorrect respirator.
Various Respirators Worn During Recovery & Cleanup
The result from this lack of concern regarding the dust?  Will 15 years later we know, that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates roughly 400,000 people - including rescue and recovery workers, residents, students and school staff, building occupants and passersby - were exposed.   As of July 2016, nearly 75,000 were enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program (this program was established by the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2011).  56,580 of the people enrolled are from the Fire Department of New York and other responders.  8,881 are civilians that were exposed to the toxic dust.  Based on the CDC estimate that means hundreds of thousands of people remain unaccounted for and maybe untreated.  The World Trade Center Health Program is monitoring over 30,000 people and is treating 23,000 people.  On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed a law that reauthorized the Zadroga Act that extended funding for the World Trade Center Health Program through 2090.

English: New York, NY, September 28, 2001 -- D...

Photograph by Andrea Booher taken on 09-28-2001 in New York

The statistics from the program can be found on the CDC website for the program.  These responder statistics show 18,639 members suffer from rhinosinusitis; 16,418 members suffer from gastroesophageal reflux symptoms (GERD); 10,274 members suffer from asthma; 6,532 members suffer from respiratory disorders; 5,639 suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 1,033 members suffer from prostate cancer.  The New York City Health Department's research found that for all cancer types more cancer cases were found among rescue/recovery workers and civilian survivors compared with the New York State general population between 2007-2011 (11% and 8% respectively).  A 2011 study found that 8 years after 9/11, the prevalence of several respiratory conditions among 10,999 World Trade Center exposed male firefighters remained high in comparison to men in the general population.
One World Trade Center
What have we learned?  First, we should heed the warnings of experts, not politicians.  Second, respirators are an essential and mandatory part of any emergency recovery/cleanup.  Third, safety is important but not if we sacrifice health.  Finally, dust generated by disasters, calamities, and emergencies cannot be underestimated in its potential health risk.  Yesterday, was a day to remember and mourn those who died at 9/11.  It was also a day to remember the mistakes made by those who disregarded the dust from the World Trade Center and make sure those mistakes don't happen again!
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