On August 26, 2015, Marcy Borders died of stomach cancer. Known by most as the 9/11 “Dust Lady”, Ms. Borders was famously photographed covered from head to toe in the World Trade Center dust. She stands as a chilling symbol to those who sustained the same exposure: to the volunteers on the bucket brigade; the residents whose apartments were enveloped by the dust; the cleaners who worked tirelessly to remove the dust; and the researchers who studied it; the effects of this dust exposure were grossly miscalculated, and the consequences are grim.
Brief Overview of the Science Behind the 9/11 Dust
When the World Trade Center collapsed, the buildings were converted into dust clouds filled with toxic particles. This large mass, which included the ceilings to the floors, the computers, the furniture, the lights, the sheetrock walls and the cement itself was pulverized into dust that was inhaled and swallowed. This exposure caused chemical irritation and long-term physical effects to many.
The problem was that there were numerous gaps in the environmental samples of the dust and inconsistencies in the scientific literature. In August 2015, the British Medical Journal, The Lancet, took a closer look at these problems. One of the independent Researchers who traveled to Ground Zero to collect dust samples, Michael Gochfeld, commented on the “sluggishness” and lack of precision by the EPA involved in the same efforts. Among several problems with the data collection, experts noted that there was no systematic exposure data collected and monitors for assessing particles screened out the larger particles. Experts said the large particles were likely more toxic and the World Trade Center dust proved to be extremely complex.
Medical Illnesses from WTC Dust Exposure
The long-term health effects from exposure to the WTC dust have similarly proved to be complex. Medical Professionals have linked a multitude of illnesses, including a host of cancers and respiratory illnesses to those exposed to the toxic dust and debris following the collapse of the World Trade Center. Physicians have indicated that these illnesses are diverse and complex. Particularly in the case of respiratory illnesses (i.e., asthma, RADS, chronic bronchitis, etc.), commonly prescribed medications are often ineffective in treating those exposed to the World Trade Center dust.
In an article published in the British medical journal The Lancet (August 2015) – World Trade Center dust-inhalation: assessing the fallout– Gregory Cannata, who has extensive experience advocating for those affected by the 9/11 dust, was interviewed. He and his Partner Robert Grochow recovered more than $60 million for their clients in the September 11th Federal Litigation.
Mr. Cannata indicated that clean-up workers involved in the 9/11 Federal Litigation developed a multitude of respiratory illnesses after they were given half-face respirators because they became clogged with dust. Those who participated in the clean-up efforts indoors were exposed to more toxic dust for longer than the outdoor dust which was neutralized by heavy rains on September 14 and 24, and continuous spray from fire hoses.
Another unique characteristic of the WTC indoor dust was its size. The indoor dust was more likely to be inhaled into the lungs and upper respiratory tract, and was easily resuspended into the air, causing it to be inhaled, when disturbed by mechanical activity such as cleaning, wiping or bagging the dust.
Without question, the lack of a scientific assessment of the WTC dust early on and coordination of the clean-up efforts were extremely detrimental to those exposed who later developed respiratory illnesses and cancers.
In The Lancet article, Mr. Cannata noted, “[In future disasters the authorities] have to adequately test the substances to know what you’re dealing with and to consider the possible health effects. That was not done in this case. The authorities focused on asbestos”.
While the global and domestic terror threats and the rise of ISIS permeate our political and social discourse, we cannot forget that officials in the City, state and national level abdicated their responsibility to the first responders, cleaners, and residents and failed to prevent widespread injuries. In fact, the need for better response efforts, given the global state of affairs, makes it all the more important that we are better prepared should another attack happen. History cannot repeat itself. We deserve better.