Health Concerns Following the 9/11 Attacks on the World Trade Center

Twenty years ago, the United States faced an unimaginable tragedy. The country watched in horror as New York’s “twin towers” fell during a deadly terrorist attack. Nearly three thousand people lost their lives that day — but the death toll didn’t end there.

When the north and south towers crashed down in the September 11th terrorist attacks, a toxic plume of dust blanketed Manhattan and its residents. The air contained approximately 2,000 tons of asbestos, along with lead and other dangerous toxins.

Christine Todd Whitman, head of the EPA at the time of the attacks, went on record shortly after the towers had fallen, stating to the public that the affected air was safe to breathe and the water was safe to drink. Years later, she admitted to being very wrong about this, issuing a public apology. “Whatever we got wrong, we should acknowledge and people should be helped … I’m very sorry that people are sick. I’m very sorry that people are dying, and if the EPA and I in any way contributed to that, I’m sorry.”

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She continues to face harsh criticism for the EPA’s gross mishandling of the September 11th attacks and the health hazards that followed. In 2003, the EPA inspector general found that the EPA had no basis for the claims Whitman made regarding the safety of the air and water in New York City after the attack. The Bush administration was also under fire, having been accused of deceiving the public.

In 2011, the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) was established by the federal government to track how many people were exposed to the toxic environment and were declared sick as a result. The organization also seeks to help those affected find treatment and compensation. More than 38,000 people have registered with the WTCHP since the attacks in 9/11, many of whom suffer from chronic respiratory illnesses and cancers. More than 2,100 of these victims have passed away from their afflictions, and that number is expected to rise.



Video Transcript

“911 is a special situation. In those towers, there were 2,000 tons of asbestos that came down with the pulverized cement, and steel and all the debris that came down on that day. We have seen some cancers already develop in the 911 cohort. And the question is, is that directly a result of 911, or would they have developed those cancers anyway if they weren’t exposed? When I look at the inflammation, the sarcoidosis, the reflux disease, the sinusitis, I am convinced there’s a lot of inflammation taking place in those patients. That’s part of what you need for this ‘scar to go wild.’ And if you look back, a lot of that asbestos in the World Trade Center was asbestos that came from Libby, Montana. We’ve done a lot of research there, looking at the effect of the asbestos mines and asbestos factories on the patient population in Libby, Montana. We are seeing similar changes on those CAT scans as we see in Libby, Montana, whom we know have such a high incidence of lung cancer and mesothelioma. It’s natural to predict over the next 10 to 15 years, that we’re going to see a huge bump in the number of cancers we see in the 911 cohort.” -Dr. Raja Flores, Chief Thoracic Surgeon, Mount Sinai Hospital

Illnesses Associated With The September 11th Attacks:

  • Cancers, including but not limited to mesothelioma, an asbestos-caused cancer that takes decades to develop
  • Chronic diseases of the lungs, such as asbestosis
  • The “World Trade Center cough,” an intense cough that includes respiratory pain, restricted breathing, and coughing up blood and inhaled ash
  • Lifelong and persistent asthma
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and other mental health problems

Who Was Affected by 9/11?

The toxic cloud of dust and debris from the collapsed towers spanned roughly eight miles, posing a threat to much of lower Manhattan and the surrounding areas. Firefighters, first responders, police officers, survivors, and cleanup crews are all at risk of developing diseases like mesothelioma as a result of their unavoidable exposure. Residents or visitors in the area at the time are also at risk.

In survivor recounts, many people struggled to breathe and noticed lasting, debilitating respiratory effects. Some survivors noted pain in their hands and feet, which was later determined to be peripheral neuropathy, indicating their nerves had been severely damaged. Unfortunately, the 9/11 cohort faces a number of dangerous health conditions. Mesothelioma is another health concern afflicting this group, as it is proven to be caused by inhaled asbestos fibers. Because this cancer usually takes years or even decades to manifest in patients, we can expect more mesothelioma diagnoses in this group in the future.

Resources and Compensation for September 11th Victims

There are many resources available to 9/11 victims, especially those suffering from diseases such as cancer, mesothelioma, and mental illness. Families who have lost their loved ones to adverse health conditions as a result of the terrorist attacks may also seek financial aid.

An experienced lawyer will be your best resource to walk you through your available options. Connect with a patient advocate now to learn more or to be connected with a specialized asbestos attorney.

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