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Airborne dust from the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center is thought to have contained asbestos and an EMT at Ground Zero was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a disease caused by asbestos.

Airborne dust from the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center is thought to have contained asbestos and an EMT at Ground Zero was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a disease caused by asbestos.

World Trade Center Overview

The History of the World Trade Center

The concept of a World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan began in the mid 1950’s. Following World War II, the United States was in the midst of rapid economic growth. In New York, much of this growth focused on Midtown Manhattan. Development in Lower Manhattan had not been as successful. As a result, David Rockefeller, Grandson of John D. Rockefeller and brother to Governor Nelson Rockefeller, assembled the Downtown Lower Manhattan Association with other prominent New York businessmen, in order to revitalize the area. The Downtown Lower Manhattan Association presented its ideas to the Port Authority of NY / NJ and in 1964, the Port Authority announced its final plans for a $525 million, 10 million square foot World Trade Center. Architect Minoru Yamasaki designed the World Trade Center. The entire World Trade Center was eventually made up of seven buildings with 15 million square feet of office space between them.

These towers would surpass the Empire State Building as the tallest buildings on earth – at least until the Sears Tower was completed in 1974.

The excavation and construction of the World Trade Center was a massive undertaking. Beginning in 1966, over 1.2 million cubic yards of earth, rock and fill were removed to make way for the World Trade Center. Because the World Trade Center site was so close to the Hudson River, workers needed to use a slurry trench method of digging out portions of the area for foundation, filling with a dense, clay-like “slurry”, placing a metal framework in the slurry, and then pouring in the concrete which would displace the slurry. This was repeated over 100 times around the perimeter of the foundation. Eventually, the leftover slurry was donated to the City of New York. 23.5 acres of the slurry were used to create Battery Park City.

Architect Minoru Yamasaki, and associates, designed the World Trade Center. Yamasaki’s design was revolutionary in that, instead of relying on support beams throughout the interior of the building space, the towers of the World Trade Center were supported by a latticework of steel columns on the exterior of the building, and an interior support ‘core’. The steel supporting columns and core were attached by prefabricated floor trusses, which formed the floor of each story. This unusual design provided for more rentable space on each floor. The building was constructed in several huge, custom-made sections, which were molded and welded off-site. Altogether, over 200,000 tons of steel were used in the construction of the World Trade Center – enough to build three Brooklyn Bridges.

The North Tower was completed in 1970, and, at 1,368 feet, displaced the Empire State building as the tallest building on earth. The South Tower was completed in 1972. The entire WTC was completed in 1977 and consisted of 7 buildings total. By the time it was completed, over 10,000 workers had contributed to the construction of the World Trade Center.

Many large companies had offices in the World Trade Center, and in order to supply power to the buildings, each tower had its own electrical substation on the lower mechanical floors. In addition, there were approximately 300 mainframe computers throughout the World Trade Center. Because of the Trade Center’s high power demands, the complex was also served by large emergency generators on the lower levels of each tower, and another on the roof of 5 WTC.

In 1974, the Sears Tower in Chicago, at over 1400 feet, displaced the North Tower as the world’s tallest building, although technically, with its 300-foot television antenna, the North Tower remained the tallest building in the world.

9/11 Attacks on the World Trade Center

On the morning of September 11, 2001, suicide hijackers boarded four separate flights from three major U.S. airports – Logan Airport in Boston, Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., and Newark Airport in New Jersey. The hijackers flew two of these planes into the towers of the World Trade Center, and one plane into the Pentagon. The fourth plane, which was likely bound for the White House, crashed in a Pennsylvania field after the passengers tried to overtake the hijackers.

At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the northern side of the North Tower, at over 500 miles per hour. Sixteen minutes later, at 9:02:59 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175 crashed directly into the South Tower. At 9:59 a.m., the South Tower began collapse. The North Tower fell at 10:28 a.m. Another building in the complex, 7 World Trade Center, collapsed later that evening after being hit from debris of the two towers that had fallen earlier.

Of the four buildings remaining, three remained standing but were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished. A fourth, the Deutsche Bank building, remains standing although it will likely be demolished later this year.

It is estimated that there may have been as many as 100,000 people inside the World Trade Center at the time that the first airplane hit. In all, 2,974 people lost their lives on 9/11. 4,000 First Responders showed up to help.

Asbestos Exposure at the World Trade Center Site after 9/11

Medical and environmental experts have stated that the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11 2001 caused the largest environmental disaster ever in New York City. For hours after the attacks, a thick plume of smoke drifted over the city towards Brooklyn. The Cars in the area had a thick layer of whitish-gray “dust” on them.

The air itself was also thick – some rescue workers compared it to “soup.” Some experts have estimated that the attacks released a “toxic soup” of over 2,500 different potentially hazardous materials, particles, and fibers into the environment. These include mercury, dioxins, pulverized concrete, lead, and PCB’s, to name only a few. In addition, it is estimated that the World Trade Center contained approximately 400 tons of asbestos fiber at the time of the attacks – much, if not all of which, was also released into the ambient air with the smoke plume, collapsing towers, and subsequent fires. In 1971, WTC 1’s steel structure was sprayed up to the 40th floor with ½ inch of asbestos coating. Initially, the Port Authority planned to use over 5,000 tons of asbestos in the construction of the World Trade Center. Because of anticipated bans on asbestos spray, however, the workers were asked to switch to a non-asbestos spray. As a result, a non-asbestos substitute was used on the remainder of the North Tower and the entirety of the South Tower. The Port Authority has suggested that some, though not all, of the asbestos coating that was initially applied had been removed prior to 9/11. It has also been suggested that the elevator shafts – approximately 100 in each tower – also contained asbestos.

Our firm is currently investigating additional asbestos products that may have been used in the construction or operation of the World Trade Center.

Who is at Risk?

Although mesothelioma is a disease that usually takes 20-40 years to develop, one EMT at the World Trade Center was recently diagnosed with this very serious illness. Mesothelioma is a rare and very aggressive cancer of the mesothelium, a thin membranous layer covering various organs of the body. Mesothelioma most often affects the pleura, or the lining of the lungs, but is also sometimes found in the peritoneum, or abdominal lining. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Provided below are examples of the types of individuals who may be at risk for developing mesothelioma cancer at some point in the future due to asbestos exposure at the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks.

First Responders

Approximately 4,000 Firefighters, police officers, EMT’s and other emergency response personnel rushed to the site of the attacks on September 11th. At that point, the magnitude of the situation and the need to rescue as many people as quickly as possible, superceded any thoughts about respirators, protective clothing, etc. First responders worked tirelessly at the site, and were able to recover 11 people from the wreckage the day after the attacks. Firefighters worked for months to extinguish fires that burned through the Ground Zero site for approximately five months after the attacks. First Responders worked tirelessly in this site of pulverized toxic materials, breathing in large amounts of the toxic dust in the process. Along with asbestos and other fibrous materials, much of the dust in the pile and throughout the city consisted of pulverized cement, making it very alkaline. Experts have compared the alkalinity of the dust to that of liquid drain cleaner, which would burn and cause severe damage to the lungs if inhaled. Some experts have stated that approximately 70% of first responders and rescue workers have presented with illnesses directly related to their exposure at Ground Zero, many of them disabling.

Ground Zero Clean-up Crews

Cleanup crews worked for months to clear the Ground Zero site. For the most part, clean-up crew included many truck drivers, transporting the waste off-site to landfills and other disposal facilities. Although they were directly exposed to the dust and toxins on the pile, clean up crews may not have been in possession of respirators and other protective gear, and some may not have been aware of the potential threat posed by the materials they were working with.

Community Residents and Employees

This includes residents, those attending nearby schools, and those working in offices nearby. Thousands of residents in nearby homes and from as far away as Brooklyn found large amounts of dust settling in their homes and apartments for several months following the attacks. Initially, this dust may have come from the smoke plume that covered much of the area; however, the persistent dust was caused by the dust on the pile – and in areas nearby – being repeatedly kicked up by wind, cleanup efforts, etc. Many nearby residents have described a thick, grayish-white dust that settled throughout their homes. Despite statements from the EPA that the air was safe, many residents experienced health issues that led them to believe otherwise. Many nearby offices and businesses were also contaminated with this dust. Again, despite EPA statements that the air was safe, some businesses hired independent companies to perform testing before allowing their employees to return to the office. In so doing, they found severely elevated levels of asbestos – some as many as twenty times the standard threshold for ambient asbestos particles. Of course, these amounts have declined over time and with proper abatement procedures. However, it is important to note that there is no safe limit of asbestos exposure. It is thought that the disparity in results may be due to the fact that the asbestos and other particles were so pulverized from the fires and collapse of the buildings that they were too small to be detected on the government agency’s testing equipment. However, as the privately-hired companies were using the most advanced testing equipment, such as SEM or Scanning Electron Microscope, they were able to find these otherwise-undetectable particles. Some have suggested that the smaller particles may be less dangerous, as a main factor in the danger of asbestos is the spear-like shape of the fibers, which allows them to burrow and “stick” in the lining of the lungs. In addition, they believe that the smaller fibers may be more easily coughed up immediately after they are inhaled. Others, including some Occupational Health experts, have indicated that these smaller particles may actually be more dangerous, as the overall shape remains intact, and the smaller size may make it easier for the fibers to make their way deep into the lungs, eventually reaching the pleura.

Pregnant Women and Children

Since 9/11 a higher number than usual number of low-birth-weight babies have been recorded in New York. Several articles have been written concerning this matter, and it is not known whether 9/11-related dust or toxins inhaled by the mother may have contributed to low birth weight, although it is a serious concern. Children are at risk because they are shorter, thus closer to any settled particulate matter. Furthermore, any dangerous materials they may breathe in, or toxins they may be exposed to, will be higher in proportion to their bodyweight. Tests have shown that this may be a factor even with asbestos exposure.

Find Mesothelioma Doctors, Lawyers and Asbestos Exposure Sites Near You

Find Mesothelioma Doctors, Lawyers and Asbestos Exposure Sites Near You

Written by

Linda Molinari Editor in Chief

Linda Molinari has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and advocate for mesothelioma patients and a ban on asbestos.

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Reviewed By

Jennifer Lucarelli Legal Advisor and Contributor

Jennifer Lucarelli is a partner at the law firm of Early, Lucarelli, Sweeney & Meisenkothen, specializing in asbestos litigation.

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