Many persistent problems confound experts

Several years after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, breathing problems plague nearly half of the rescue workers analyzed in a screening program, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Stephen Levin, lead investigator at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, found rescuers and Ground Zero cleanup workers are battling persistent sinusitis, asthma and a nagging cough, reports Newsday.

"From the beginning of the program in July of 2002," Levin told the newspaper, referring to the inception of the screening program he has overseen, "we have found high rates of upper respiratory problems, sinusitis laryngitis and higher rates of lower respiratory problems - asthma, bronchitis, chest tightness, coughing and wheezing.

"The cough is so unique it was dubbed "World Trade Center Cough.""We don't have an easy answer for the persistence" of the cough, said Levin, co-director of the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program at Mount Sinai. He attributed upper and lower respiratory problems to inhalation of pulverized concrete that burned and permanently scarred nasal, bronchial and lung tissue. Other destructive compounds included pulverized glass, acids and dust.

A separate report by the Government Accountability Office also found health issues. GAO investigators noted that 300 firefighters developed World Trade Center Cough. Most striking, the GAO found that the full impact of the health consequences remains unknown.


PSTS, Inc. received the above article via e-mail, and we felt that we should respond. Based on his experience while working with hazardous asbestos and lead materials from the 1950’s throughout the mid 1970’s, Dr. Calvin C. Williams, Owner, President, CEO & Chief Instructor of Professional Safety Training Services, Inc. believes that the airborne asbestos particulates and the various types of nuisance dust, fumes, and vapors that were spread over most of New York City after the unexpected destruction of the twin towers on 9/11/01, is the major cause of the high rate of lower respiratory problems, e.g., asthma, bronchitis, chest tightness, coughing and wheezing, that is indicated in the above article. He also feels that these symptoms could eventually lead to asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Since these diseases are chronic in nature, we can expect many more people involved directly with the debris from the fallen twin towers to be infected at a later date.

Dr. Williams worked in an iron foundry at the age of 17 prior to joining the U.S. Marine Corps in the early 1950’s, where he was exposed to silicosis and many other types of hazardous airborne dusts. After receiving his discharge from the USMC, he was hired as a Ship Fitter at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey, where he helped to build the enormous USS “Kitty Hawk” Aircraft Carrier, nuclear powered submarines and many other large vessels. During his tenure at the N.Y. Shipyard and other shipbuilding companies from the mid 1950’s throughout the late 1970’s, he worked around a lot of materials covered with lead paint, and a lot of airborne dust and fibers from asbestos materials and toxic fumes from galvanized metal fumes caused from torch cutting and welding.

Prior to, and during that period of time, hardly anyone knew the serious hazards that could result from inhaling and ingesting toxic fumes and hazardous dust particles from asbestos fibers and materials. As a result many of the people he worked with during that era, are either dead or suffering from asbestosis, lung cancer, or lead poisoning. Now at the age of 68, Dr. Williams has noticed that many of his previous co-workers that are still living between the ages of 60 through approximately 75 years of age, continually experience serious coughing and respiratory disorders, have extreme difficulty while breathing, and many of them rely heavily on the use of portable oxygen bottles to keep themselves alive. Williams contributes his present good health and lack of the dreaded asbestosis disease to the fact that he was never a smoker, of which many of his co-workers were and still are. He advocates that heavy smoking can accelerate the chance for a person to acquire lung cancer.

Years ago, when asbestos fibers where sprayed on steel beams of buildings during construction, they served as an excellent fireproof barrier. When the twin World Trade Center towers were being constructed, asbestos fireproofing materials were most likely sprayed onto all of the steel structures of both buildings, and durable lead paint could have been used to paint many of the walls throughout the two high-rise buildings. Most likely, the materials used for acoustical ceilings and tile flooring could have consisted of asbestos materials throughout the buildings. No one realized at that period of time during the application of these materials, that the materials were harmful and could cause serious chronic health hazards to human beings that would result into a detrimental and hazardous situation many years later. Even though the use of asbestos and lead materials were banned from use in the late 1970’s, the damage had already been done in a manner that caused the serious illnesses and deaths of many people over the years.

If the white colored material and dust that covered an extremely large area throughout New York City was indeed asbestos, it could have no doubt resulted in most of the present illnesses and symptoms indicated above by Dr. Stephen Levin. Many of the people that visited and worked at the WTC site during immediate removal of bodies and mangled debris, and many of the escapees, volunteer workers, and rescue personnel, City Officials, News Reporters and curious bystanders were being exposed to large clouds of potential asbestos dust and toxic fumes and vapors from other smoldering building materials. Most of them were not wearing a respirator, a dust mask, a handkerchief, or some sort of barrier on their face in order to prevent the inhalation and ingestion of the hazardous airborne asbestos particulates. The lack of such respiratory protective equipment (PPE) could surely have resulted into the present illnesses they are now experiencing.

PSTS, Inc. was responsible for training numerous workers that assisted in the cleanup of the devastated site. According to many of the people he taught, they reported that they observed the majority of frustrated and exhausted workers during the desperate emergency rescue attempts to save lives and remove injured people and dead bodies from the rubble of twisted debris, were not wearing gloves, safety glasses, or even a simple dust mask, in order to prevent accidental contact with infectious blood or other bodily fluids that could cause a person to acquire Bloodborne Pathogen diseases, e.g., AIDS, Hepatitis A, B, and C viruses. During his conduct of Hazardous Waste Operations & Emergency Response Training at his Cal-Tech Learning Center in Cherry Hill, NJ, he instructed and encouraged the site workers and volunteers that would be working at the WTC site, to wear the proper PPE that could be responsible for saving their own lives. If anyone reading this article would like to learn more about the hazards and harmful affects of Asbestos, Lead, Anthrax or Bloodborne Pathogens, please contact PSTS, Inc. to request a date to attend an applicable Safety Awareness Course or a 40-Hour Hazardous Site Worker Course. PSTS, Inc. also provides Expert Witness services for Environmental Attorneys.


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