Asbestos Fallout from September 11
Jonathan Bennett was in New York City when the World Trade Center (WTC) was attacked; he was there when the federal, state and city governments reassured New Yorkers that the air was fit to breathe and that it was business as usual.1 Unfortunately, the truth was not as reassuring as the politicians' statements, Mr. Bennett told a lunchtime seminar at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on April 24th 2007:
When the World Trade Center collapsed, 200,000 tons of steel, 600,000 square feet of window glass, 5,000 tons of asbestos, 12,000 miles of electric cablesand 425,000 cubic yards of concrete crashed to the ground and a greatdeal of it then spewed into the air. The collapse of thebuildings and the fires that burned unabated for more than 4months generated high levels of airborne contaminants At least 20,000 individuals are now sick as a result of their exposures to the toxic dust and their prognosis is uncertain . The Mayor of New York has recently stated that 670,000 people are at risk because of their exposure to 9/11 contamination.
In his talk, Mr. Bennett referred to the:
hundreds of tons of sprayed asbestos fireproofing used on the 7-story basement throughout the 16 acre WTC site;
sprayed fireproofing on floors 1-40 of tower 1;
trowelled-on asbestos fireproofing products applied to every inch of steel in the lift shafts in both towers and all the low-rise buildings on the site;
asbestos floor tiles throughout the buildings.
Unfortunately, government officials, including civil servants at the highest level of the Environmental Protection Agency, were not alone in misleading New Yorkers about the dangers. The New York Times, which sets the media agenda for the U.S., did a miserable job, reporting post-9/11 health issues. On September 12, in its only reference to asbestos in the dust clouds, the Times stated that there was no need for concern about asbestos as a NYC ban on sprayed asbestos fireproofing had prevented its use on the twin towers. In light of numerous news articles and several editorials the Times had featured on this story in the early 1970s, this statement seems either an incredible error or a deliberate attempt to manipulate public opinion.
Although Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent reappraisal of the dire health repercussions of the attacks is a positive development, without federal funding help for those affected will remain only a proposal, not a program. Concluding his talk, Mr. Bennett said:
I just wish that there weren't so many powerful people with avested interest in denying the seriousness of the hazard and the urgent need to provide medical monitoring and care for everyone who is already ill or at risk of becoming so.
April 25, 2007
1 Jonathan Bennett is the Public Affairs Director, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health; NYCOSH is a non-profit provider of occupational safety and health training, advocacy and information to workers and unions throughout the New York metropolitan area. It's membership consists of more than 250 union organizations and 400 individuals: union members, health and safety activists, injured workers, healthcare workers, attorneys, public health advocates, environmentalists and concerned citizens. The NYCOSH website is: http://www.nycosh.org