WTC pollutants may kill more than attacks did

The dense cloud of toxins and pollutants released in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 was inhaled by up to 400,000 New Yorkers, but there has been no concerted effort to learn how it affected their health, an official report states.

The U.S. government study furnishes the most current evidence of a systematic cover-up of the health toll from pollution after the attacks. Doctors fear the substances inhaled will cause more deaths than the attacks did.

Evidence of increasing danger was suppressed by the Bush administration, which officially announced at the time that the air around the rubble was “safe to breathe.” A second report says the government has failed to correct that misstatement on at least a dozen occasions, even as it became clear that people were becoming ill.

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the owners of the Twin Towers and several contractors who employed workers to clean up Ground Zero. A number of New York City police officers and firefighters who worked there in rescue operations have been reported ill with respiratory ailments.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office sent its official report to Congress last week. It states that between 250,000 and 400,000 individuals in lower Manhattan were exposed to the pollution on Sept. 11, 2001. It also shows the federal government still has made no comprehensive effort to study the health effects of that exposure.

The report says there has been no systematic effort to monitor the health of those affected, to give them physical exams or to furnish treatment.

The latest government report, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the second report within two days, says nearly half the more than 1,000 rescue workers screened who responded to the WTC attacks, suffer from new or exacerbated respiratory, mental and other health problems.

The CDC report is the second to find that police, firefighters, and volunteers show persistent effects from environmental toxins and psychological stress.

Scientific studies revealed the cloud of pulverized debris from the towers was particularly dangerous.

The federal government’s own figures showed the cloud contained the highest levels of lethal dioxins ever recorded –about 1,500 times normal levels. Exorbitant levels of acids, sulphur, fine particles, heavy metals and other dangerous materials also were measured.

Asbestos measured 27 times the acceptable levels, and scientists also discovered nearly 400 organic alkanes, phthalates, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons—a number of them are suspected of being carcinogenic and causing other long-term ailments.

The GAO report noted that many rescue workers are afflicted with wheezing, shortness of breath, sinusitis, asthma, and a syndrome it dubbed “WTC cough.”

The site at Ground Zero smouldered for some time, and scientists said it became a “chemical factory,” creating dangerous new substances. A study carried out at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, revealed nearly half of the 1,138 people screened had problems that began or were worsened by exposure to the dust, airborne toxins, and pollutants released by the collapsed buildings.

“These preliminary findings of the WTC Screening Program demonstrate that large numbers of workers and volunteers suffered persistent, substantial effects on their respiratory and psychological health as a result of their efforts,” said Dr. Stephen Levin, co-director of the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program.

Of those screened, 51 percent had mental health problems, and their risk of post-traumatic stress disorder was four times that of the general male population The analysis is part of a wider study of about 12,000 people under evaluation at Mount Sinai.

The CDC also disclosed results of the first phase of an investigation, jointly with the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, into the evacuation efforts at the World Trade Center.

Their report examined factors influencing decisions workers made as to whether to leave the towers once the attacks began. Some delayed over concerns about getting permission from their bosses while others remained to shut down computers and collect personal belongings.

The report said damage to the buildings, such as debris in stairwells or partly collapsed interior walls, blocked many exits and heavy congestion on some stairs caused some people to seek an alternate way down. Additionally, the report found, there was little in the way of back-up public address systems or other means of communication.

A separate report in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found expectant mothers who were near the WTC at the time of the attacks were more likely to have lower-weight babies.

The CDC report also said only 21 percent of the workers and volunteers involved in the screening program had proper respiratory protection between Sept. 11 and Sept. 14, 2001, when the effects of dust, diesel exhaust, pulverized cement, glass fibers, and asbestos were considered greatest.

Source: The Independent,

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