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Lung Injuries Resulting from the 9/11 Attacks

In the moments, days, weeks and months following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) in 2001, clouds of dust enveloped Lower Manhattan. As the debris was cleared from the site, that same dust found its way to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. Thousands of first responders inhaled this dust, but other people — construction, transit, cleanup, debris removal and nearby office workers, in addition to truck drivers and Lower Manhattan and some Brooklyn residents — were exposed as well.

The dust in the disaster and its aftermath contained everything in those buildings. This included substances known to be toxic when inhaled or ingested: lead, gypsum (from drywall), cement and asbestos. As Paul Lioy, director of exposure science at Rutgers University told ABC News-TV in 2011, “The dust is something we had never seen before.”

Survivors inhaled much of this dust, and lung disorders and deadly diseases have resulted over time. The most serious among these are lung cancer, mesothelioma and laryngeal cancers, which can become evident up to 50 years after exposure (or much sooner). Other illnesses include the following:

  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Chronic respiratory disorder
  • Reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS)
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Asthma, upper airway hyper-reactivity, chronic rhinosinusitis, chronic nasopharyngitis, chronic laryngitis, gastro-esophageal reflux disorder (GERD) and sleep apnea

As most first responders have learned, “WTC cough,” an indicator of exposure to 9/11 dust, is a strong sign that the individual may be affected. In every case, medical examination and treatment is highly advised.

As many as 400,000 people may have been exposed to these toxins. While there is no means of erasing the damage that arose that day, there are several programs designed to help employed and volunteer workers (and their survivors) who have become ill as a result of their service on 9/11. These include the WTC Volunteer Fund and the WTC Victim Compensation Fund, as provided for by the 2010 James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act. Speak with a WTC compensation lawyer to learn more.

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