September 11, 2001 was a day that shook the bedrock of American society. Additionally, there may be an aftershock in the years to come—a surge in 9/11-related mesothelioma cases.

Ground Zero-The Unknown Risk

When the World Trade Centers collapsed on 9/11, a cloud of toxic dust and debris blanketed Manhattan. Largely unknown to the public, this dust contained an array of carcinogenic particles. Some of these toxins included: lead, mercury, dioxins, benzene and, of course, asbestos. Therefore the question remains, “Who is at risk of developing mesothelioma as a result of 9/11?”

People At Risk

  • First Responders

    Volunteers and emergency service personnel have a risk of developing mesothelioma in the future. In their efforts to rescue survivors, these people unknowingly inhaled toxins such as asbestos.

  • 9/11 Survivors

    Those who survived the collapse of the World Trade Centers are incredibly lucky. Unfortunately, they may have inhaled asbestos fibers from the collapse of the towers also putting them at risk for developing mesothelioma.

  • Residents

    Residents of lower Manhattan may have been continuously exposed to asbestos released into the air. Most residents initially believed they were safe once the dust cleared. Asbestos can stay airborne for long periods of time leaving residents unknowing candidates for developing mesothelioma.

Asbestos in the World Trade Centers

was the most talked about toxin following 9/11. However, the risk was largely unknown to the public or at least downplayed as nothing to be concerned about.

9:11mesoConstruction on the twin towers began in the spring of 1966, before any regulations had been placed on the use of asbestos. The lower columns of the World Trade Centers in Manhattan were coated with literally tons of asbestos. The National Resources Defense Council estimates 400 tons of the mineral.

At the time, asbestos was considered a safe fire retardant. Asbestos was not used in the upper columns of the towers.

There was initially some controversy over the risk of asbestos exposure among first responders, survivors and residents due to the seemingly minute levels of asbestos released into the air as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There was controversy about whether or not the levels of asbestos in the air posed a threat to anyone in the vicinity of the collapse.

There is, however, no safe level of asbestos exposure. The EPA’s samples of the dust in the first three weeks after the attacks revealed that 25% contained unsafe levels of asbestos. Some areas of Manhattan were found to have very high concentrations of asbestos. This means there was a palpable risk of asbestos exposure for all those in Manhattan in the days after 9/11.

Who Is At Risk?

Anyone in lower Manhattan at the time of the Twin Towers collapsing was at risk of asbestos exposure. The groups of people in this are consisted of first responders, survivors and residents.

First Responders and Survivors

First responders are the heroes who were active in the rescue effort following the collapse of the twin towers. These people include firefighters, emergency workers, police and even some private citizens.

Of course, the majority of first responders and survivors were completely unaware of the danger they faced by breathing in the toxins that were released in the wake of the collapse. Most first responders and survivors had no respiratory protection.

On Nov. 5, 2019, a first responder died due to mesothelioma. Nick Ursta, 52, had pleural mesothelioma. He and 10 others went to New York City in the immediate days following the terrorist attacks.

Dr. Raja Flores, the director of thoracic surgical oncology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, predicts many more cases in the years to come.

Residents of Lower Manhattan

Unfortunately, to the risk and potential detriment of Manhattanites, the areas that were blanketed in the toxic dust were not immediately closed. At the time the EPA had deemed lower Manhattan and other nearby boroughs as safe to inhabit.

Asbestos fibers, however, are so minuscule that they can remain airborne for days at a time. This created a serious risk of asbestos exposure to those who lived in areas coated by dust and debris, not to mention exposure to many other toxic chemicals.

9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

Reports conducted by the EPA led first responders and residents to believe there was no immediate danger from the dust that erupted after the twin towers collapsed. The EPA stated that the air in Manhattan was safe to breathe in as little as 2 days after 9/11.

Unfortunately, countless health issues have emerged as a result of people inhaling the resulting dust from the collapse of the World Trade Centers—mostly respiratory diseases including asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was signed into law in 2011 to help the victims of exposure to the toxins released on 9/11. The act pays tribute to James Zadroga, the first 9/11 responder to die from an exposure related illness. The act was approved for five years and will hopefully be renewed to continue helping 9/11 first responders and survivors who may develop an exposure-related illness in the future.

Countless people have been treated under 9/11 health programs, and it is likely the program will need to be expanded in the future due to the latency period of development of cancers like mesothelioma.