Raise awareness of environmental health issues in order to better protect our children and future generations.

10 September 2021

Documentary "Dust to Dust - the Health Effects of 9/11"

“Dust to Dust”, a 58-minute documentary produced by Bruce Kennedy and Heidi Dehncke-Fisher, is a tribute to the first responders of 9/11.  It describes their very serious health problems following clean-up of the toxic wreckage of the World Trade Center and the cover-up by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of the extreme hazardous contamination in the days immediately following the attacks “in order to get Wall Street – and the economy – up and running”.  Attention, the film shows the towers on fire and collapsing.  (The film is available on You Tube).)

Three hundred forty-three (343) firemen and paramedics and 78 police officers were killed on 11 September 2001.  Some 18,000 persons have since received medical treatment for illnesses related to toxic dust from the World Trade Center site. The New York State Department of Health has documented at least 204 deaths of rescue and recovery workers since September 11, 2001.  The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association stated earlier this year that 65 officers have died from cancer, at an average age of 44.

The film describes the shoddy monitoring of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the days following the attack.  EPA officials time and again declared that the site of the area of the wreckage was “not a health hazard”.  The agency had only taken 10 air samples in the first few days and certain toxins were not tested.  It was later established, however, that the ruins contained over 2,500 contaminants, including:

-  Over 400 tons of asbestos
- 90,000 liters of jet fuel containing benzene
- Mercury from over half a million fluorescent lights
- 200,000 pounds of lead and cadmium from personal computers
- Up to 2 million pounds of PAH from diesel-fueled fires
- 130,000 gallons of transformer oil containing PCBs
- Crystalline silica from 420,000 tons of concrete, sheetrock and glass

Much of the waste was hauled out in open flatbed trucks to the “Fresh Kills” landfill on Staten Island.

Where did all the toxic dust go?

The White House Council on Environmental Quality had the final word on toxicity.  The primary concern was to get Wall Street open as soon as possible after 9/11 by assuring people that air quality was safe.  People returned to work in the area 6 days later, even though high levels of asbestos were detected.  “This is not a time for caution, but for action”, declared President Bush at Ground Zero on the first weekend after the attack.  He wore no respirator, giving the impression that people did not need to wear one.  Residents of Lower Manhattan were encouraged to return to their homes.  Offices and schools re-opened without ventilation systems being cleaned.   Thick piles of dust remained on windowsills for months.  The only offices cleaned thoroughly were those of the EPA.

Over 5,000 people per day began the clean-up process at the wreckage site which smoldered for 3 months.  Within months, the workers began to report respiratory problems – asthma, chronic sinusitis, chronic bronchitis – from the toxic particles in the air.  There was an enormous rush to clean up the site without first making it safe.  Many workers were not given respirators, unlike those at the Pentagon, who were provided protection from the very start of the clean-up. 

With illness, firefighters and others lost their jobs and could not find other employment.  Workers had to fight for the meager sums of disability pensions which in some cases, took two years to receive.  Health insurance was canceled due to pre-existing conditions.  Some sick people, unable to continue mortgage payments or meet the cost of medical bills, were forced out of their homes. 

“We are the dust they are trying to sweep away”, said one worker suffering ill health.

Many of these persons were to die from cancers and other illnesses.  Signed into law on 2 January 2011, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act set aside $4.2 billion for treatment services and medical benefits for people who worked in response and recovery operations as well as for survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  The Act was named after James Zadroga who was said to be the first police officer to die from exposure to toxic chemicals at the attack site.  He died of respiratory disease at age 35.  Only a few cancers were covered when the Act was signed into law.  In June 2012, the act was amended to include coverage of 50 different types of  cancers.  This will never compensate for the heroism shown by first responders or for their very difficult struggle for recognition and compensation of their illness.

Review by Meris Michaels
Originally posted in December 2012.

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