When the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, a huge cloud of smoke, dust and debris released hazardous toxic substances into the air. The World Trade Center Health Registry estimates approximately 410,000 people were exposed to a multitude of toxins during the rescue, recovery, and clean-up efforts.
People most affected at Ground Zero were people assigned to rescue survivors. These workers were among the first on the scene and the last to leave the disaster area. Search and rescue workers and others responsible for cleaning up the debris in the months after the towers fell were also exposed to a host of toxins.
Major Respiratory Concerns
Subsequent to the collapse of the Towers, tens of thousands of rescue, recovery, and clean-up workers, volunteers, and residents of the local community were exposed to a complex variety of airborne pollutants. Respiratory syndromes, and physiologic damage in World Trade Center (WTC) survivors and workers continue to emerge with potential long-term effects.
Major concerns include ongoing aerodigestive tract inflammatory syndromes. The aerodigestive tract is the combined organs and tissues of the respiratory tract and the upper part of the digestive tract (including the lips, mouth, tongue, nose throat, vocal cords, and part of the esophagus and windpipe). Some aerodigestive tract inflammatory issues are: reactive upper airways dysfunction syndrome (RUDS); reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS); gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); and inflammatory pulmonary parenchymal syndromes; along with respiratory tract and non-respiratory malignancies.
These respiratory problems have now been documented in WTC exposed occupational groups, and syndrome occurrence has been linked to the intensity of WTC airborne pollutant exposure.
The national law firm Parker Waichman has worked for years, for and with people with Ground Zero-related injuries, who have developed respiratory diseases. Our attorneys are actively reviewing potential lawsuits on behalf of those individuals who are seeking legal information.
Effects of Inhalation of WTC Dust
Dr. Brian W. Christman, professor and vice-chair for Clinical Affairs at Vanderbilt University and national volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association says, “Due to the intense exposure (to pollutants in the air) there have been a number of respiratory diseases associated with the attack on the World Trade Center. People who confronted the early, intense dust plume and burning fumes frequently developed acute rhinitis, sinusitis, sore throat, and acute cough. The inhalation of some of the more reactive chemicals, such as acrolein which evolves when certain synthetic materials burn, resulted in injury to the smaller airways. Some patients developed variants of asthma with unusual small airway injuries from the toxic dust and fumes.”
The harmful particles included both pulverized alkaline dust from destroyed building materials and chemical products from explosions and burning of construction materials. Alkaline is the opposite of acidic, but can be just as dangerous. The alkaline silica dust deposited in small airways causied inflammation, scarring, and narrowing. When the toxic dust entered the nose and sinuses, similar inflammation occurred. The symptoms experienced were typically worse in individuals with pre-existing illnesses like allergic rhinitis (hay fever), chronic sinusitis, and asthma, among others, Dr. Christman said.
Who was Most Impacted by the WTC Dust?
In general, those most impacted at Ground Zero were those who were already there or voluntarily entered the dust and debris cloud, or arrived shortly after the disaster. They worked longer at the site, did not use personal protective equipment and were at greater risk of developing respiratory symptoms.
Some of the firefighters who were first responders had the most severe dust exposure. The New York City Fire Department has performed spirometry (lung function testing) with 13 years of follow up. Some firefighters’ lungs aged the equivalent of 10-12 years in the first weeks to months after the attack from the dust they inhaled. Those who smoked had even worse effects.
Most people who had intense early exposure did sustain about a ten percent reduction in lung function and this reduction was sustained after more than a decade, according to the American Lung Association.
Certain diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer are slow to develop, so it is likely that an increase in lawsuits linking these conditions to 9/11 exposures may continue to emerge in years to come. Dr. Craig Sevens, a mesothelioma specialist at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, predicts in mesothelioma and lung cancer cases starting in 2021, two decades after 9/11, expects the number of cases to peak by 2041.
Legal Advice and Information for Those Suffering 9/11-Related Pulmonary Diseases
The attorneys at Parker Waichman have worked with and for 9/11 victims through the years, since the 2001 attacks. If you or someone you know suffers from illness linked to 9/11 toxic exposure, our attorneys offer free, no-obligation, case evaluations. We urge you to contact us at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).