Environment & the World

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11: An Environmental Disaster

Filed under: Air Pollution — amirj @ 12:19 pm

Not only did 9/11 represent a national tragedy, it was also an environmental nightmare. While almost 3,000 people died in the day’s events, many survivors have died in the five years since and thousands of NYC residents and rescue, demolition, and clean-up workers have suffered (or still do suffer) from diseases as a result of the toxic environment in the aftermath.

 The Natural Resources Defense Council compiled data about the extent of the environmental damage that resulted from the collapse of the World Trade Center. Consider this piece that appeared in an article in the Spring 2002 edition of their OnEarth magazine:

“The collapse of the World Trade Center towers led to the release of as much as 300 to 400 tons of asbestos from the north tower and the destruction of two electrical substations underneath World Trade Center 7 that contained 130,000 gallons of transformer oil contaminated with PCBs. In fine-particle samples taken near the site in October, the UC-Davis team found lead, sulfuric acid, and silicon; some levels of these metals were the highest ever recorded in air in the United States.” [Emphasis added]

 As if the thought of several major skyscrapers collapsing isn’t horrific enough, think about all the material contained in them that would normally be removed before any demolition: computers, wires, flourescent lights, furniture, plastics, phones, etc. Read pages 3 and 4 of the NRDC’s preliminary assessment (pdf) of the environmental impacts of the World Trade Center attacks to get a vivid idea of all the pollution this created. With mercury, lead, and other heavy metals as well as dioxins, PCBs, and VOCs spewed into the air, the day ushered in a toxic who’s who of air pollutants.

Back in 2002 the NRDC estimated that some 10,000 people suffered from exposure to the toxic environment in the aftermath of 9/11. Now, five years later, the Mount Sinai Medical Center has released its study of health effects on WTC responders.

The results come from medical examinations that Mount Sinai provided to 12,000 WTC responders, 9,500 of which agreed to be in the study, in a 21-month period between 2002 and 2004. Among the findings, “The report found that a high proportion of those examined became sick as a result of their World Trade Center work. It found also that illnesses have persisted in the years since September 11 in a high proportion of the workers.” Furthermore:

  • “Almost 70 percent of World Trade Center responders had a new or worsened respiratory symptom that developed during or after their time working at the WTC
  • Among the responders who were asymptomatic before 9/11, 61 percent developed respiratory symptoms while working at the WTC”

Unfortunately, this report focuses on respiratory diseases that resulted from the aftermath of the WTC collapse and therefore it might not even provide the full picture of the harmful effects 9/11 responders are still living with. In a segment I saw yesterday on CNN I vaguely recall the mention of many (thousands?) of responders who have now developed various cancers, likely as a result of their exposure to the highly toxic air that resulted from the 9/11 attacks.

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