October 23, 2021

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Asbestos, Heavy Metals … How the September 11 Attacks Kill Twenty Years Later – West-France Evening Edition

Roberto Luccini, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences, Florida International University (Miami, USA)

In the United States, nearly 3,000 people were killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Emergency services were mobilized on the spot and residents near the destroyed Twin Towers were exposed to a cloud of toxic dust that had been suspended in the air for more than three months.

Terrorist attacks September 11, 2001 At least 2,753 people have died in the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York and their immediate surroundings. In the aftermath of the attack, more than 100,000 respondents and rescuers from across the United States – as well as about 400,000 residents and other workers Ground zero – A cloud of toxic dust falling in the form of a thick layer of ash is exposed. A ghost cloud that has been in the air for more than three months.

Also read: The September 11 attacks: Twenty years later, the moving United States came to mind

The mixture of toxic compounds is volatile

The World Trade Center dust dust contained a hazardous mixture of dust, particles of cement, asbestos and many other persistent organic pollutants. These latter chemicals include carcinogenic dioxins and polyaromatic hydrocarbons or PAH, which are by-products of fuel combustion.

Dust also contains other hazardous components. Heavy metals that are toxic to the human body and brain include lead (used in the manufacture of flexible power cables) or mercury (found in light switches or fluorescent lamps), or cadmium, which can cause kidney cancer (as it goes) in the development of pigments for electric batteries or paints.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were also chemicals used in power transformers. PCBs are known to be carcinogenic, toxic to the nervous system, and capable of disrupting the reproductive system. In normal times it is already dangerous, as they can be very harmful when heated to high temperatures by burning aviation fuel – before being carried away by very fine particles.

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Aerial view of the site of the World Trade Center tower destroyed by terrorist attacks. Asbestos, lead, mercury … all the toxins and substances in the twin towers had evaporated and remained in the air for months. (Photo: James Tourdellot / US Customs and Border Protection)

The dust raised by the fall of WTC is thus composed of “large” and very small particles, both fine and ultra-fine. These tiny particles in particular are known to be highly toxic, especially to the nervous system as they can go directly through the nasal cavity and reach the brain.

Many rescuers and other personnel exposed directly to this dust developed a severe and persistent cough that lasted an average of one month. They were treated at Mount Sinai Hospital and treated at the prestigious Occupational Medical Clinic, a prestigious center for occupational diseases.

I specialize in occupational medicine and started this Mountain Sinai in 2012 as the Director of the WTC Health Program Data Center. The program collects data on workers responsible for recovery and recovery in relation to world trade and provides health monitoring and oversight. Center After eight years in this role, I went to the Florida International University in Miami, where I plan to continue working with 9/11 responders who will move to Florida when I reach retirement age.

Also read: Twenty years ago, the 9/11 attacks shook the world: how tragedy unfolded

From severe symptoms to chronic illness

Because after the initial severe health problems, the wave of chronic diseases started and continues to affect them even after twenty years. Persistent cough led to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and upper respiratory tract diseases such as chronic rhinosinusitis, laryngitis and nasopharyngitis.

The cult of respiratory diseases puts many of them at risk for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which occurs at a higher rate for survivors of twin towers. This condition occurs when stomach acids go up the esophagus, which connects the stomach to the throat. Many of the survivors suffer from sleep apnea due to respiratory disorders or digestive disorders, which require additional treatment.

To add to this tragedy, about eight years after the attack, the first cancers began to appear among the survivors. These include blood clots and tumors such as lymphoma, myeloma and leukemia – which can affect workers who develop cancer in the workplace. More survivors still suffer from other cancers: breast, head and neck, prostate, lung and thyroid.

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Some have also developed mesothelioma, an acute form of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. Asbestos was used at the beginning of the construction of the North Tower until public opinion and public awareness of its health risks ended.

Also read: Diseases associated with 9/11 would have killed more people than attacks

The mind was also touched

Survivors of 9/11 have had to overcome psychological trauma, resulting in a number of chronic mental health problems.

In a study published in 2020, data were collected from more than 16,000 WTC respondents, suggesting that almost half needed mental health care. In addition, 20% of direct victims developed post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many have told me that finding torn bodies, walking through scenes of carnage and experiencing the tragic situation of the days following the event meant a lot to their lives. They can’t forget the horrible pictures they saw and many suffer from other behavioral problems including mental disorders, cognitive impairments and substance use disorders.

For professionals sent to the site of the New York attack, the tragic scene was psychologically traumatic. (Photo: Congress Library)

Survivors, the older generation

Twenty years later, these survivors face a new challenge as they age and retire – a difficult life change, which can lead to a decline in mental health. Before retiring, the daily rhythm of professional activities and a regular schedule often helps to keep the mind occupied …

But rest sometimes leaves a void – a void filled with unwanted memories of the sounds, smells, fears and frustrations of that terrible day, for this vulnerable audience. Many of the survivors have told me they do not want to go back to Manhattan and of course do not go to the World Trade Center site.

Aging can be accompanied by memory loss and other cognitive problems. However, studies show that these natural processes are accelerated and more intense in 9/11 survivors, as in war zone veterans. This trend is particularly worrying, with growing research linking the link between cognitive impairment in 9/11 victims and dementia, including our own initial research. A recent article from Washington Post He described how these people experience dementia-like disorders in their 50s, which is much earlier than normal.

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Infectious Govit-19 It had already wreaked havoc on the victims of 9/11. People with pre-existing conditions were at higher risk during epidemics. A recent study has, logically, revealed the high incidence of Govt-19 among WTC workers between January and August 2020.

Tribute to the survivors

The health risks of direct exposure to severe dust were underestimated at the time and not properly understood. In addition, suitable personal protective equipment such as the P100 half-face respirator was not available at the time.

We now know more about the risks – and we have more access to safety equipment that can keep disaster responders and rescuers safe. However, I often find that we often do not learn and use these lessons …

For example, as soon as a condominium collapsed near Miami Beach in June 2021, it took several days for the P100 half masks to become available and mandatory for respondents. Other examples around the world are even worse: a year later The eruption of BeirutAs of August 2020, minimal action has been taken to study and manage physical and mental effects among respondents and the affected community. A worse situation occurred after the July 20 chemical fire in Durban. South Africa.

Using the lessons learned from 9/11 is an important way to honor the victims and courageous men and women who took part in the desperate rescue and rescue efforts during those horrific days.

The original version of this article was published Conversation.

Conversation