No one who was alive at the time will ever forget the tragedies that occurred on September 11, 2001. It was a day that showed the true face of terrorism and one that affected not only the people of the United States but also others around the world.
There were obvious casualties that day. Nearly 3,000 died as a result of the falling of the World Trade Center towers and the acts of violence at the Pentagon and in the fields of central Pennsylvania. But as the weeks, months, and years went by, other less-obvious casualties occurred.
Many of the first responders who were on call that day, particularly in Manhattan, later developed a variety of respiratory diseases and died. One of those diseases was mesothelioma.
Any time a building collapses, particularly an older building, the potential for asbestos exposure is present. When the so-called Twin Towers fell, millions and millions of tons of debris rained down on Manhattan; everything from paper to steel was part of the mix. Included also in the debris were toxic materials, not the least of which was asbestos.
Only part of the World Trade Center contained asbestos. When construction began on the towers, there was already some controversy brewing in regards to asbestos use and the danger of exposure to the mineral. Because of that, only about half of the North Tower was constructed using asbestos materials. The South Tower contained no asbestos.
Still, when they fell, asbestos materials were everywhere and first responders – including firefighters, police, and EMTs – were regularly wading through it to find survivors and, later, the bodies of those who perished.
Other scenarios in other parts of the country have been similar. An old building burns or collapses and asbestos is strewn all around the area. It could be months (or even longer) before the debris is disposed of, and anyone involved in rescue, recovery, or clean-up might be exposed.
EMTs and others in similar jobs know they are at risk every time they’re out on a call. They can be shot or otherwise attacked. Perhaps they might be exposed to a dangerous, contagious disease. But few first responders probably think about asbestos when heading out to a building collapse or similar tragedy.
When the World Trade Centers fell, the amount of asbestos left behind was so great that first responders were being diagnosed with mesothelioma just a few years later. Remember, this is a disease that usually takes decades to surface, even with daily exposure for a number of years.
As the years went by more and more EMTs, police, and firefighters noticed severe breathing problems and many were eventually diagnosed with asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma cancer.
The dangers aren’t limited to the events of 9/11, however. This exposure could happen at any time. That’s why it’s always necessary for first responders to wear protective gear when heading to a disaster that could expose them to asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled and penetrate the area around the lungs, causing eventual tumors to form.
A potentially toxic scene should never be entered until masks or respirators are in place, and any supervisors who insist it is safe to proceed without such are putting lives at risk with their negligent behavior.
If you know a first responder – EMT, police officer, firefighter – who is battling mesothelioma because of on-the-job exposure, consider doing some research on the reason for the asbestos exposure and don’t hesitate to investigate legal options that may result in compensation for these injuries and suffering.