WHEN THE World Trade Center collapsed, it produced an enormous
cloud of white debris, the likes of which the world had never seen.
According to NASA satellite photos, that toxic plume drifted over
lower Manhattan, crossed the East River, and spread into Brooklyn,
covering everything with substances that scientists are still
trying to identify.
The Environmental Protection Agency almost immediately announced
that the mysterious fog that thousands of New Yorkers were inhaling
was, in fact, harmless. But more than a year later, at least 350
firefighters who worked at Ground Zero are suffering from what has
been called ?World Trade Center cough,? and some may be permanently
disabled. Meanwhile, incidences of respiratory illness have
dramatically increased throughout Brooklyn.
The EPA wasn?t downplaying the bad news in its initial reports,
writes Laurie Garrett in the liberal political magazine The
American Prospect (October 21, 2002). The agency tested
for substances known to be harmful?asbestos, PCBs, and the like.
But there was no precedent for the kind of pollution created on
?The World Trade Center cough? appears to be caused by a
combination of pollutants not previously known to produce human
disease and thus not covered by Clean Air Act standards or subject
to EPA monitoring,? writes Garrett. When the towers crumbled,
thousands of plate-glass windows exploded, sending microscopic
shards of silica glass into the air. This glass fog, combined with
other toxic elements like heavy metals, concrete, and partially
burned jet fuel, was extremely alkaline, with a pH level as high as
11.5?far exceeding the 4.0 pH level of human lungs. According to
Dr. Kerry Kelly, New York Fire Department?s chief medical officer,
this alkaline cloud caused victims? airways to constrict and become
hypersensitive to all inhaled particles, leaving them with a dry
The disabled Ground Zero firefighters are eligible for health
services from the federal government, as are any other victims
living in Manhattan, Garrett notes. But Brooklynites suffering from
the illness will have to fend for themselves. Not only does the
government not recognize victims beyond Manhattan, it didn?t even
bother to monitor the fallout across the river.