Ongoing Health Issues

After the collapse of the World Trade Center, a massive effort began to remove the rubble. Many firefighters and police officers throughout New York, as well as those from other areas, worked to remove debris from the scene. In addition to the dangers associated with cleaning the area, firefighters and other emergency personnel were exposed to serious health threats. According to a report from the Bureau of Health Services, around 99 percent of the firefighters who responded to the tragedy have since reported respiratory problems. Among the many contributing factors to these ongoing health problems is asbestos, a material that has been known to cause mesothelioma and lung cancer.

A Cloud of Toxic Dust

For most firefighters who reported breathing problems, dust was the biggest culprit. Dust was widespread in the area following the collapse, and it spread to residents located near the buildings. In many cases, the dust may have contained several hazardous materials. Lead, benzene, cadmium, coal tar, and epoxy resin were among some of the most common materials. When the buildings collapsed, they broke down these materials in to dust, allowing these materials to become airborne and spread.

In addition to these materials, asbestos particles were also exposed. When asbestos breaks down, particles can be inhaled through the air. When asbestos particles attach to the lining of the lungs, the body tries to fight them. That leads to the development of scar tissue. Over the course of many years, mesothelioma develops. Mesothelioma can take many decades to appear, and it is not unlikely for people not to exhibit any symptoms during this long latency period.

Early Detection

Since mesothelioma doesn’t show early signs, it is tricky to detect. However, early detection can make all of the difference. For people who may have been exposed, including victims and emergency responders, regular checks for disease such as mesothelioma may prove helpful. In the New York area alone there are programs specifically designed to monitor the health of those associated with the World Trade Center collapse. As with any form of cancer, early detection can lead to more treatment options and a better outcome. When seeing a doctor or health specialist, it is important to inform them of any asbestos exposure. For firefighters, police officers, and volunteers that cleaned up the World Trade Center, this is a distinct possibility. Early detection does not guarantee a cure, but it does greatly increase the chance for a favorable prognosis.


New York Times

National Cancer Institute

USA Today