Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Remembering the Environmental and Health Impacts of 9/11

This is an updated version of an article that was originally published by The Green Market Oracle in 2012. It covers the environmental impacts and the related toll on health stemming from the terrorist attacks that brought down the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

In addition to the horrific death toll from 9/11, the devastating environmental impact continues to harm human health more than a decade and a half later. The felling of the twin towers in Manhattan killed 2973 people. First responders charged with cleaning up the carnage, along with others who spent time on or near the 9/11 site continue to suffer from serious health effects.  According to the latest reports around 20 percent of the more than 400,000 people who were exposed to toxic contaminants are suffering from a range of health problems including chronic cough, asthma, sinus congestion and more than 50 cancers. Others are suffering from stress-related disorders, and depression.

The health effects were not limited to Manhattan, toxic environmental exposures were also reported at the "Fresh Kills" landfill in Staten Island where trade center debris was moved, and at the city morgue.

When the Twin Towers were were brought down they not only killed people and destroyed property, they created an environmental nightmare. The toxic soup that remained included dust laced with asbestos, glass fibers, pulverized cement and other substances. According to air pollution expert and University of California Davis Professor Emeritus Thomas Cahill, the dust from the collapsed towers was "wildly toxic".

The thousands of tons of toxic debris resulting from the collapse of the Twin Towers consisted of more than 2,500 contaminants. This includes 50% non-fibrous material and construction debris; 40% glass and other fibers; 9.2% cellulose; and 0.8% of the extremely toxic carcinogen asbestos, as well as detectable amounts of lead, and mercury. There were also unprecedented levels of dioxin and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from the fires which burned for three months. Many of the dispersed substances (asbestos, crystalline silica, lead, cadmium, PAHs) are carcinogenic. Other substances present are known to trigger kidney, heart, liver and nervous system deterioration.

In 2006, David Worby, an attorney representing more than 5,000 sick plaintiffs suing those who supervised the cleanup, said 21 of his clients had already died of September 11-related diseases since mid-2004. "This is just the tip of the iceberg," Worby said. "Many, many more people are going to die from the aftermath of the toxicity."

In 2012 CNN reported that many of those who became sick due to exposure to the 9/11 were having trouble keeping up with the costs of their illnesses.

One such individual is New York City Police Detective Ernie Vallebuona who spent six months at the site. Three years later, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He underwent extensive treatment and while he is currently in remission, he had to spend his retirement savings to pay for medical bills not covered by insurance.

“People are terribly sick. People can’t support their families. People are having trouble getting by,” said Noah Kushlefsky, an attorney who represents Vallebuona and 3,800 other first responders. “I have clients who have been evicted from homes. I have clients who can’t pay their rent, their phones have been shut off, and these people are in desperate need of some assistance so that they can live their lives,” he said.

An April 2006 autopsy report of a retired New York City detective James Zadroga, drew a clear connection to 9/11. "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," stated the report from the medical examiner's office in Ocean County, N.J. This was the first official link made by a medical expert between the hazardous air at ground zero after the trade center collapse and the death of someone who worked in the rescue effort. 

In January 2011, President Barack Obama signed the Zadroga Act which launched the World Trade Center Health Program.  This program provides money for medical care and $2.775 billion dollars to compensate people for issues related to their illnesses. Cancer was initially rejected for coverage under the Act, however, on Monday, September 10, 2012, federal health authorities outlined 58 types of cancer that now will be covered. The program was renewed in 2015 and it will be in place until 2090.

As of June 2017, Business Insider reported that almost 80,000 people (residents and responders) are registered through the program. The program's enrollment has steadily been rising since it opened, with a few hundred more responders and survivors joining each month.

Although it is hard to prove, researchers are working on establishing a scientific link between exposure to 9/11 debris and a wide variety of ailments.

Sustainable Design in the New World Trade Center Buildings

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