Asbestos Exposure Following the September 11th Terrorist Attacks
Today, we remember the 20th Anniversary of 9/11. On the morning of September 11th, 2001, about 2,000 tons of asbestos dust was released into the air around Manhattan. For weeks, residents, workers, and first responders were exposed to airborne asbestos fibers surrounding the contaminated wreckage.
It’s been 20 years since the terrorist attack, but some survivors still anxiously live with the possibility of developing cancer or a disease caused by exposure to various carcinogens following the tragic event. The original World Trade Center was constructed in the 1970s at the height of asbestos use in the United States. Today, workers involved with its construction and those that watched its demise risk developing an asbestos-related condition.
The Latency Period of Mesothelioma
Asbestos exposure typically happens decades before mesothelioma symptoms first appear. The time in between prolonged exposure and the development of mesothelioma is called the latency period. The average latency period of mesothelioma is between 20 and 60 years.
After exposure, asbestos fibers become trapped inside the lining of the chest, abdomen, or thoracic cavity. The trapped fibers result in inflammation, irritation, or scarring of the tissue nearby. As a natural reaction, the body lubricates the inflamed area, leading to fluid buildup. Over time, the fluid buildup can cause cell mutation and the development of malignant mesothelial cells.
Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Common symptoms of mesothelioma include chest or abdominal pain, a painful cough, unexplained weight loss, or difficulty breathing. Symptoms of mesothelioma are sometimes mistaken for less severe conditions, such as pneumonia or the flu.
There are several illnesses besides mesothelioma that are linked to the September 11th attack, including other forms of cancer, chronic diseases of the lungs, such as asbestosis, lifelong and persistent asthma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and other mental health problems.
Many victims and first responders developed the “World Trade Center cough”, which is an intense cough accompanied by respiratory pain, restricted breathing, and coughing up blood or inhaled ash. Some survivors noted pain in their hands and feet, which was later determined to be severe nerve damage, called peripheral neuropathy.
Occupations at Risk
After the collapse of both towers, roughly eight miles of toxic dust and debris blanketed much of lower Manhattan. First responders, firefighters, police officers, and other volunteer rescuers surrounding Ground Zero risked prolonged exposure to asbestos.
Nearby residents, clean-up crews, news reporters, visitors, and survivors of the attack also risk developing diseases like mesothelioma due to their inevitable exposure to asbestos. Many survivors recount seeing people struggling to breathe and noticed lasting, debilitating respiratory effects themselves.
What to Do If You Were Exposed to Asbestos Following 9/11
If you were exposed to the thick plume of toxic dust occupying Manhattan on the 11th of September in 2001, you’re still at risk for developing 9/11-related cancer or disease. Because mesothelioma takes decades and prolonged asbestos exposure to develop, we expect more diagnoses in the future.
Compensation is available to victims who have been diagnosed with a 9/11-related illness. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) provides compensation to individuals or representatives of a deceased individual who have since been diagnosed with a 9/11-related illness. Most cases reported include being present at the World Trade Center, surrounding exposure zone, the Pentagon crash site, and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania crash site between September 11, 2001, and May 30, 2002.
The VCF provides compensation for construction workers, volunteers, clean-up and debris removal crews, and residents who lived, worked, or went to school in the exposure zone and have since been diagnosed with an illness related to the attacks.
Additional Legal Compensation
Those who were exposed to asbestos and later diagnosed with mesothelioma can seek additional legal compensation. The compensation can cover the cost of treatment, loss of income, or other financial setbacks resulting from the illness. Victims or their family members can speak with a lawyer about personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits.
If you were present at one of the sites involved in the September 11th terrorist attacks and have begun experiencing symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctors. Make a detailed document of your symptoms and experiences at any of the affected sites to help.
Noticing your symptoms early on can lead to better treatment options and survival outcomes. Responders and survivors should complete regular medical evaluations of their mental health and their respiratory and digestive systems. Annual monitoring exams and counseling services for 9/11 survivors are often covered through the World Trade Center Health Program.