The World Trade Center was built between 1968 and 1972, a time when asbestos was a popular insulation and fireproofing material in the construction industry. As the towers went up, the interior of the structures were sprayed with thousands of tons of asbestos insulation. As the dangerous health effects of asbestos became better known, some of the asbestos in the superstructure was removed. However, a good portion of this toxic material still remained and was released throughout the atmosphere around Ground Zero on September 11, 2001 when the twin towers collapsed.
Asbestos still coated the lower columns of the two buildings. The collapse broke loose this deadly material and created a massive plume of smoke that stretched for miles throughout the streets of Manhattan. Waves of toxic dust and a debris cloud engulfed survivors and witnesses. When the cloud settled, asbestos and other harmful substances were left behind as residue in the aftermath.
Studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) following the collapse of the towers found a contamination of up to three times the acceptable amount of asbestos particles in the rubble. An additional study conducted by HP Environmental, a Virginia firm, indicated there may have been even more asbestos fibers in the air. The impact pulverized the asbestos particles into such microscopic sizes, they may have been too small for the EPA's assessments to detect.
More than a decade has passed since that tragic day. Sadly, many of the emergency responders and volunteers have become ill due to asbestos and other harmful carcinogens they were exposed to while helping with the rescue, recovery and clean-up efforts at Ground Zero. Hundreds of selfless individuals – from firemen and police officers to volunteers and survivors – assisted with the cleanup and recovery efforts immediately following the collapse. Today, emergency personnel, Manhattan residents, office workers and disaster cleanup crews who worked at the site are at increased risk for mesothelioma due to the high levels of asbestos contamination in the rubble.
Some of these individuals have already started to experience symptoms and medical problems associated with asbestos exposure. James Zadroga, a New York police officer who worked an estimated 450 hours in the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero, developed a persistent cough and was unable to walk without gasping for air only weeks after 9/11. He died in 2006 from a respiratory disease developed from exposures at Ground Zero. During his autopsy, medical examiners found Zadroga's lungs had been fatally scarred with toxic chemicals, including fiberglass and pulverized concrete.
President Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act on Jan. 2, 2011. Establishing the WTC Health program, which was designed to help people who worked or lived near the twin towers and have since been diagnosed with cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control recently estimated that about 1,140 people have been certified to receive cancer treatment under the WTC Health Program. In 2012, this program was expanded to include 58 types of cancer, including mesothelioma. It includes four primary sub-programs:
Mesothelioma has a latency period of as much as 50 years. If you or a loved one have been exposed to asbestos and are now dealing with a mesothelioma diagnosis, you may want to consider your legal rights. Victims of asbestos exposure do have options. An experienced mesothelioma law firm can help.
Learn more about working with a mesothelioma lawyer by exploring more of Nolo's articles on the subject. From there, use Nolo's Lawyer Directory to find a mesothelioma lawyer who is right for you and your family.