Asbestos Use in the WTC

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) those who were the first to respond, such as police and firefighters, volunteers, and workers may have been exposed to asbestos. It is now understood that the Twin Towers were constructed with various elements containing asbestos. Asbestos fibers are known to pose major health risks and are easily inhaled due to their very fine and thin nature. Once inhaled, they cannot be broken down. In the body, they permanently embed themselves in heart, abdominal, and lung tissue and can cause a variety of serious asbestos-related diseases with symptoms that can take anywhere from 15 to 50 or more years to exhibit. This includes mesothelioma, a form of cancer with no known cure.

Asbestos in Construction Materials

Initially, officials downplayed, sometimes even denying, the hazards in the areas surrounding the WTC. These officials stated that asbestos-containing materials had not been extensively incorporated into the design of the WTC because a ban had been anticipated. After further investigation, a fact sheet released by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health proved otherwise. It warned that asbestos was a major component of construction and thus present in the dust and debris at Ground Zero. As such, it was recommended for health and safety purposes that emergency workers at the site wear protective clothing, change and bag their clothing before leaving to go home each day, and wash the contaminated items separately from other laundry. More information was brought forth after the Environmental Protection Agency issued an investigative report concerning the agency’s own practices. Earlier press releases issued by the EPA claimed only low levels of asbestos were present, and instructed neighborhood residents and businesses how to clean up asbestos-containing dust in their homes and offices. It was later discovered that these reports had been edited to remove language recommending the hiring of asbestos abatement professionals.

Danger to First Responders

It is likely that this omission of accurate asbestos levels led to many other unsuspecting individuals being exposed to asbestos without respirators or other appropriate equipment. Inhaling asbestos fibers without this type of equipment could significantly increase the likelihood of future asbestos-related illnesses. As of 2004, almost half of those exposed to asbestos at or near the WTC who were screened for health problems were found to have chronic respiratory ailments. A number of the first responders to arrive at the scene have already been diagnosed with cancer suspected to be due to exposure to related toxic substances including asbestos. Because of this, it is expected that the number of those afflicted with mesothelioma and other health problems as a result of this disaster will steadily continue to grow over time. References: Ground Zero Hazards Asbestos in the WTC