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BMJ. 2007 June 9; 334(7605): 1188.
PMCID: PMC1889989
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World Trade Center dust blamed for respiratory illnesses

In the early aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, some firefighters developed upper respiratory symptoms, which later became known as “World Trade Center cough.” The cough was associated with clinically important loss of lung function, and it was probably caused by inhalation of the toxic cloud of particles and gases generated when the twin towers collapsed. We don't know exactly what was in the cloud because no one sampled it at the time, says one commentator, but later analyses of settled dust and environmental pollution at the site found volatile carcinogens, particles of building materials, and asbestos.

Survivors, clean-up operators, and local residents may also have been affected, but there is ongoing controversy about the long term health effects of being near the twin towers during and after the disaster. Thousands of people are looking for compensation for respiratory illnesses allegedly caused by the dust, he says. Some have already been successful.

The original pollution is long gone, and scientists have worked over the remaining dust thoroughly. The best we can hope for now is rigorous and long term follow-up of people who lived or worked in the immediate area. This controversy won't be resolved for decades, if at all, he concludes.


  • N Engl J Med 2007;356:2233-6 [PubMed]

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