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The World Trade Center and Asbestos

Expert Fact Checked

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Jennifer Lucarelli Lawyer and Legal Advisor

The World Trade Center had asbestos-containing materials. Builders used spray-on asbestos on the steel beams for insulation and fireproofing. The 9/11 attacks released asbestos-containing dust clouds into the air. First responders and residents exposed to the mineral may develop mesothelioma.


01. Asbestos Exposure

World Trade Center Asbestos

Some of New York City’s World Trade Center buildings had asbestos. In fact, records show up to 2,000 tons of asbestos-containing materials were used during construction. These materials included sprayed-on asbestos fireproofing.

Construction on the World Trade Center began in 1966 when asbestos in building materials was common. By the early 1970s, the city had banned spray-on asbestos fireproofing, and crews had stopped using it. But before that time, they had already used it on about 40 floors in the North Tower.

The collapse of the Twin Towers produced a toxic dust cloud filled with contaminants, including chrysotile asbestos fibers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested the area over the following week. In more than one-third of the samples collected by the EPA, asbestos levels were higher than what regulators consider acceptable. Anyone who came into contact with fibers may have inhaled them, which can lead to asbestos-related diseases.

What Was in the World Trade Center Dust Cloud?*

  • Asbestos
  • Benzene
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Concrete dust
  • Dioxin
  • Glass fibers
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Other chemicals
  • Other metals

*Based on samples gathered by the EPA

The toxic dust cloud spread across Lower Manhattan. In the years following the attack, research suggested the dust cloud had traveled anywhere from 1.5 to 3 miles away from the World Trade Center. But people also shared reports of dust and debris outside this radius.

9/11 Victims Compensation Fund Map

Following the attack, the EPA began testing the air and settled dust. Dust and air samples were collected from September 11 to September 18, 2001. More than 25% of the samples contained levels of asbestos higher than 1%.

Days after the attack, the EPA announced that Manhattan’s air was “safe to breathe.” But the EPA later concluded it did not have the data to back this claim. This misstep on the part of the EPA may have led to unnecessary asbestos exposures in the aftermath of the attacks.

Who Was at Risk of 9/11 Asbestos Exposure?

  • Communications recovery workers
  • Construction workers
  • Educators and students
  • Employees in nearby buildings
  • First responders
  • Health professionals
  • Indoor cleanup crews
  • New York City residents
  • Outdoor cleanup crews
  • Passersby in the area
  • Volunteers
  • World Trade Center employees
02. Asbestos Health Risks

World Trade Center Asbestos Health Risks

The asbestos in the World Trade Center created many health risks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the 9/11 terrorist attacks exposed as many as 400,000 people to toxins. Health effects include 9/11-related illnesses and cancers.

What Are 9/11 Cancers?

  • Hematopoietic cancer
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancers
  • Leukemia
  • Lung cancer
  • Lymphatic cancer
  • Mesothelioma
  • Myeloma
  • Oropharyngeal cancers
  • Other malignant neoplasms
  • Prostate cancer
  • Thyroid cancer

Other 9/11-Related Illnesses

  • Asbestosis
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Chronic respiratory disorders
  • Depression
  • Hearing loss
  • Lung disease
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Sarcoidosis

Some conditions, including many asbestos-related diseases, may take years to develop. As a result, some victims are just beginning to experience symptoms of asbestos exposure. Others may not have started to show symptoms.

9/11 and Mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is a 9/11 cancer of particular concern because of the high levels of asbestos released during the attack. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma.

A 52-year-old EMT who assisted with recovery at Ground Zero the day after the attacks passed away from pleural mesothelioma in November 2019. This was the first case of pleural mesothelioma related to 9/11.

The number of mesothelioma cases stemming from 9/11 is largely unknown. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, meaning the cancer may take 10 – 50 years to develop. As time passes, mesothelioma diagnoses caused by 9/11 are expected to continue to grow.

Manhattan residents impacted by the attacks are at risk of developing mesothelioma. Higher quantities of asbestos and long-term exposure may increase mesothelioma risk.

What Can You Do if You Were Exposed to 9/11 Dust?

People exposed to asbestos have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma. These people may take safety measures to improve the chances of early detection. Anyone exposed should:

  • Notify their doctor of their potential asbestos exposure
  • Document the time of exposure and any suspected exposure sources
  • Understand potential asbestos-related conditions and their related symptoms
  • Notify their doctor immediately if any symptoms present
  • Maintain frequent checkups

Early diagnosis is associated with better outcomes in mesothelioma patients. After diagnosis, patients can seek treatment from specialized mesothelioma doctors.

03. Treatment Resources

Treatment Resources for 9/11 Victims

Individuals affected by the World Trade Center attack may be eligible for benefits. Some New York City cancer centers have programs for first responders and other victims. For example, Mount Sinai Medical Center offers a World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program.

The World Trade Center Health Program

The WTC Health Program was set up to help those suffering from 9/11-related conditions. The program offers specialized support services to 9/11 victims, including:

  • Benefits counseling
  • Health monitoring
  • Mental health services
  • Treatment

There are four member types eligible to enroll in the program:

  • General responders
  • Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) responders
  • NYC residents
  • Pentagon/Shanksville, Pennsylvania responders

By December 2023, over 87,000 first responders had enrolled in the program. Enrollees include:

  • 17,058 FDNY responders
  • 68,841 general responders

The WTC Health Program is administered by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), part of the CDC. New York City has many Clinical Centers of Excellence that support the WTC Health Program. Some centers are specific to responders and survivors.

Victims can apply through the WTC Health Program website. The program covers a variety of illnesses and asbestos-related diseases. Coverage includes all types of mesothelioma.

04. Compensation for Victims

Compensation for 9/11 Asbestos Victims

Federal and state governments have programs to help the victims of 9/11. These programs assist victims in receiving compensation to cover medical bills and other fees associated with their diagnoses.

9/11 Victims Compensation Fund

Congress established the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) for two main purposes, to:

  1. Compensate victims who suffer a 9/11-related injury or loved ones who lost a family member to a 9/11-related injury
  2. Protect airlines from litigation related to the 9/11 attacks

Victims filing a claim could not file a lawsuit against airlines or other parties related to the 9/11 attacks. The fund initially ran from 2001 to 2004. Around $7 billion was paid out to more than 5,000 families. Families who suffered the loss of a loved one and people injured during the attack received compensation.

Continuation of the VCF and WTC Health Program

  • January 2011: President Barack Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. This act restarted the VCF fund. It funded an additional $2.8 billion and created the WTC Health Program.
  • December 2015: President Obama passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act. The act funded an additional $4.6 billion to the VCF and reauthorized the WTC Health Program through 2090.
  • July 2019: President Donald Trump signed the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act. The act made the VCF permanent and authorized $10.2 billion for claims through 2090.

In 2023 alone, the VCF awarded victims more than $1.8 billion. This contributes to a total of over $12.7 billion awarded by the VCF since its creation.

Victims and family members may have the right to file a claim. Claims require specific documentation and must meet certain deadlines.

Victims may also be able to file lawsuits against companies that manufactured asbestos products used in the World Trade Center complex. People should seek help from experienced lawyers as soon as possible. Asbestos attorneys can help clients understand their compensation options and file claims on their behalf.

05. Common Questions

Common Questions About the World Trade Center and Asbestos

Did the World Trade Center have asbestos?

Workers used asbestos during the construction of the World Trade Center. In the North Tower, spray-on asbestos coated the steel beams up to around the 40th floor. Contractors stopped using the spray-on asbestos fireproofing in 1971 when the city banned its use.

How much asbestos was in the World Trade Center?

Estimates suggest the North Tower had between 300 and 400 tons of asbestos. Other estimates put the total amount of asbestos used in the World Trade Center at roughly 2,000 tons. The Port Authority, which managed the project, originally had planned to use 5,000 tons of asbestos.

How far did the dust cloud travel on 9/11?

The exact distance the dust cloud traveled remains unclear. However, low levels of dust were found as far as the Empire State Building, almost three miles away. Research suggests some toxins may have traveled more than 40 miles away from Ground Zero. The smoke plume reached nearly a mile high.

Find Mesothelioma Doctors, Lawyers and Asbestos Exposure Sites Near You

Find Mesothelioma Doctors, Lawyers and Asbestos Exposure Sites Near You