In addition to the horrific cost to human life, 9/11 has had a devastating environmental impact that continues to harm human health. The felling of the twin towers in Manhattan on September 11th 2001, killed 2973 people, and the toll on human life continues to be felt eleven years after the tragic event. 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.
Many continue to suffer from persistent respiratory illnesses. Health effects from the dust and debris of 9/11 range from “trade center cough” to terminal cancer. 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 destroyed they not only killed people and destroyed property, the 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.
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 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.”
Thousands of first responders, volunteers and residents have became ill as a result of working or living near the 9/11 site. The environmental repercussions of 911 are not over, they continue to compromise the health of people to this day.
“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.
Thankfully, in January 2011, President Barack Obama signed the Zadroga Act which 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.