Following the September 11th terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center’s twin towers, a toxic plume of debris covered the site and has led to thousands of injuries and deaths following the fall of the towers.
In fact, one survivor described the dust in the air as seeming like a blizzard. “You couldn’t see what street you were on because the dust was just as thick as snow, and you really didn’t have much vision,” he said, according to Healthline.The noxious dust remained in the air for days and covered everything, including people, in the area. The cloud consisted of toxins, carcinogens, and irritants including, asbestos; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); benzene; dioxin; glass fibers; gypsum: cement particles: and heavy metals such as lead, among other substances, noted Healthline. The debris that amassed is referred to as the “Pile,” which continued combining and smoldering until mid-December. Rescuers recovered bodies until the end of December.
The responder interviewed for Healthline noted that, in the days following the attacks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the air there was safe to breathe. Meanwhile, according to the Word Trade Center (WTC) Health Program, more than 37,000 people have been diagnosed with at least one medical condition related to the 9/11 attacks, Healthline reported.
In January 2011, President Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 into law. The Act created two programs. The WTC Health Program provides treatment and also covers medical expenses for a list of conditions tied to 9/11. That list, as of the 15th anniversary of the attacks, contains over 90 health conditions, including a number of aerodigestive disorders, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), believed to a direct result of the toxic dust those in the area inhaled. The conditions also include mental health issues, including depression and anxiety disorder associated with the trauma of exposure to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Also included in the growing list are more than 60 types of cancer.
The WTC Health Program provides annual medical monitoring to 9/11 responders—the thousands who worked or volunteered as part of the emergency, recovery, and cleanup efforts in lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon, and at the crash site near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Healthline writes. Because prevention is key to monitoring, responders need not be sick to enroll for the annual physicals, including blood work, a breathing test, and a detailed health questionnaire. Responders may also provide consent to have their yearly health data made available to researchers, which helps the dozens of research projects focused on understanding the health effects associated with the terrorist attacks, notes HealthLine.
The WTC Health Program does not typically provide treatment for health conditions not on the list and it has taken years of research to prove connections between exposure to the covered conditions and diseases.
Dr. Benjamin Luft, director of the Long Island Clinical Center of Excellence for the WTC Health Program, told Healthline that, “It’s very frustrating for patients who are debilitated by these diseases to get the help they need.” He added that it may be more may be facing challenges associated with delayed onset diseases, including cancers with long latency periods and said, “The real concern is that there were thousands of toxins that people were exposed to. It would be one thing if you had just one toxin and people were exposed to it…. But the different types of chemicals in the air and in the environment were really quite vast. That’s one of the problems, that the different manifestations are so myriad and so broad.”