Battling Air Pollutants: Ground Zero Patients Suffer from Respiratory Problems

Air Pollutants and Respiratory Problems

The September 11th terrorist attacks were incredibly devastating for New York City. In addition to the thousands of people who lost their lives that day, the destruction of the World Trade Center released a vast amount of pollutants into the air. In fact, the varied amount of hazardous materials, released into the air, caused people to develop various respiratory problems that did not manifest themselves until years after the attacks.


When the World Trade Center was constructed in 1973, its builders used asbestos as insulation. The reason being, asbestos has excellent sound and fireproofing properties. However, decades after the material became a staple in the construction industry, it was found that the inhalation of asbestos fibers caused a number of serious respiratory illnesses including mesothelioma, asbestosis, asthma and lung cancer. When the World Trade Center fell, more than 2,000 tons of asbestos was released into the air in, the form of dust. As such, millions of New Yorkers were exposed to the toxic material and have suffered severe respiratory problems as a result.

Concrete Dust

In addition to all of the asbestos that was released into the air, the collapse of the World Trade Center sent several hundred thousand tons of pulverized concrete into the air. This dust was spread throughout Ground Zero and the surrounding region and was inhaled by both first responders and area residents. Unfortunately, pulverized concrete is a highly caustic substance that can rate as high as 10 or 11 on the pH scale. At that level of alkalinity, a substance can cause damage to a person’s skin, eyes and respiratory system. One study of 27,000 9/11 first responders found that 42 percent of its subjects had some form of lung damage.

Toxic Compounds and Volatile Organic Compounds

As time has gone by, research has been conducted on the dust that enveloped most of lower Manhattan, on 9/11. Various examinations found toxic compounds, within the dust surrounding the Trade Center area, including fiberglass, ceramic fibers, metal complexes and silicate, all of which negatively affect lung function. Additionally, several piles of burning rubble that smoldered in the aftermath of the attack were found to emit large amounts of volatile organic compounds into the air. In small quantities, volatile organic compounds can irritate the condition of asthmatics, or allergy sufferers, but in large doses they can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and lungs of individuals who are not afflicted with such conditions.

Treatment Options

While many of the respiratory disorders, that have been diagnosed in connection with the 9/11 attacks, are not curable, most of them are treatable. Asthma sufferers can take control and rescue medications to minimize the effect their condition has on their day-to-day lives. Oxygen therapy and nebulizers have been found to be effective treatments for asbestosis. If you believe you contracted a respiratory illness, post 9/11, contact us today to set up an appointment. Dr. Shulka has the skills and experience to help get your quality of life to the highest possible level.

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