The World Trade Center

The dust and fumes from the catastrophic collapse of the World Trade Center released an estimated million tons of dust, smoke, fumes, and soot generated from pulverized concrete, metals, silica, and organic materials within the buildings, appeared to have wreaked havoc on the lungs of thousands of firefighters, police officers, and World Trade Center employees who were on site on 9/11, and days and weeks after. The unimaginable concentration of dust and particles were an ongoing concern for thousands of people, including residents living in apartment buildings nearby. In addition to dust and particulates, hazardous chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), including benz(a)pyrene, crysene, and benz(b)fluoranthene, have produced carcinogenic, mutagenic, and genotoxic effects in lab animal studies.

Shortly after the collapse, the EPA collected air samples at or near ground zero to monitor fine PM. However, a team from the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) analyzed 243 of the collected samples. According to Dr. Stephen M. Rappaport, the team leader, the PAH levels declined rapidly, indicating the unlikelihood of long-term risks of cancer from PAH exposure. Also discovered was the fact that workers engaged in cleanup efforts could have been exposed to much higher levels of PAH than those in the collected air samples, and thus would have higher cancer risks. Also, because PAH levels were high for weeks after the collapse, the potential for adverse reproductive effects cannot be discounted among women who were pregnant during that period. The researchers caution that indoor air cannot be overlooked as a source of PAH as huge levels of dust seeped into both residential and commercial buildings, and could likely become a source of exposure [28]. A major factor limiting adverse health effects was the fact that 90% of the airborne particles were larger than 10 |im, a size that settles out of the air quickly. That is why Dr. Rapaport could estimate the risks of cancer as 0.157 cases per million people over 70 years near ground zero, and could increase to 0.167 cases per million people among cleanup workers—far less than one in a million. Will cancer clusters develop around ground zero? That's an appropriate question, as that study was done in 2001. By mid .2006, following wide concern that the dust at ground zero appeared to be responsible for firefighters (who worked without respirators) continuing to fall ill, there is still no convincing evidence that the dust is responsible for any long-term cancer threat. But there do appear to be indications that the heavy dust, smoke, and ash that the first responders inhaled is responsible for increased numbers of cases of sar-coidosis, which scars the lungs, markedly reducing lung capacity. Curiously enough, among New York City police who were also among the first respond-ers at the World Trade Center, there does not appear to be an increased incidence of sarcoidosis, but this may be a matter of interpretatation. A more complete account of the ill effects of the WTC disaster may not be known until 2020 [29].

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