Dust To Dust:
The Health Effects Of 9/11
broadcast 9-11-2006 on Sundance Channel
Into 2006 there has been growing concern over the health effects of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the
Financial District of lower Manhattan. With the moment of the collapse of the twin towers and Building 7 of the World Trade
Center, pulverized buildings, electronic equipment and furniture propelled forward from former buildings.
Additionally, in the five months following the attacks dust from the pulverized buildings continued to fill
the air of the World Trade Center site. Increasing numbers of New York residents are reporting symptoms of Ground Zero respiratory
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"Five years after 9/11, the attacks on the World Trade Center continue to claim the lives of American citizens. The
violent collapse of the buildings released hundreds of thousands of pounds of deadly materials into the air - including carcinogens
such as asbestos and benzene, lead and mercury from the thousands of crushed computers, and other toxins such as PCPs, PAHs
and silicon particulates. Yet in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the federal agency responsible for safeguarding
the public health - the Environmental Protection Agency - reassured everyone that their air was safe to breathe. Now more
than ever - it seems that this was not the case. Countless first responders - emergency technicians, police officers, and
firefighters - have grown ill as a result of their exposure to toxins from the smoldering pile that once was the World Trade
Center. Some have contracted severe respiratory problems such as chronic asthma and reactive airway disease. Others have been
diagnosed with more serious illnesses such as leukemia, pancreatic cancer, mesothelioma and kidney disease. And though initially
regarded as heroes, they have been abandoned by their government in their quest to seek medical treatment and financial help
for their families. Featuring interviews with prominent scientists, EPA officials and the now-sick heroes of 9/11, Dust to
Dust is a tragic, cautionary tale about heroism, survival, and ultimately betrayal. Narrated by actor and former firefighter
Steve Buscemi, the film thoroughly explores and exposes this under-reported health crisis of unprecedented magnitude."
New York Times TV Review:
By Anita Gates
Published: September 11, 2006
“I looked, and I just saw this wall of black and gray coming at me,” remembers Ron Baumann, a New York City
police officer who was at ground zero five years ago today. He is referring to the overwhelming cloud of smoke and dust that
enveloped the streets of Lower Manhattan as the two World Trade Center towers collapsed.
“Dust to Dust: The Health Effects of 9/11,” a powerful and persuasive one-hour documentary on the Sundance
Channel tonight, analyzes that cloud (“a devastating toxic soup containing more than 2,500 contaminants”) and
addresses its devastating legacy for the thousands of workers and others who breathed it in.
News reports have mentioned some of these contaminants before, but this film is an eye-opener, superimposing the information
in large letters on the screen and explaining some of their sources. In addition to more than 400 tons of asbestos, this film
counts 90,000 tons of jet fuel containing benzene; mercury from more than a half-million fluorescent lights; 200,000 pounds
of lead and cadmium from computers; crystalline silica from 420,000 tons of concrete, plasterboard and glass; and perhaps
as much as two million pounds of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from the diesel-fueled fires. Some of those substances are
carcinogens; others can cause kidney, liver, heart and nervous-system damage.
And there is film of emergency-response workers, most without respirators or masks, digging through the debris while fires
Every disaster seeks a villain, and “Dust to Dust,” directed by Heidi Dehncke-Fisher, gives that honor to Christine Todd Whitman, then administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Ms. Whitman is shown several times reassuring reporters that the air is safe. In all fairness, on at least two of those
occasions her reassurances (“There is not a reason for the general public to be concerned”) technically appear
to refer to New York as a whole rather than to the affected areas near the twin towers. This is, at best, a sin of omission.
Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, New Yorkers’ hero of the day, is seen at a lectern announcing, “The air quality is safe and acceptable.”
Michael D. Brown, the erstwhile director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, comes off as relatively harmless, merely promising the federal government’s help.
The program’s revelations about the rewriting of E.P.A. publicity releases are particularly damning. A Sept. 16,
2001, statement about one contaminant originally stated that samples “showed levels of asbestos ranging from 2.1 percent
to 3.3 percent” and that the agency “views a 1 percent level as a definition for asbestos-containing material.”
That wording was changed to say, with an Orwellian touch, that samples “contained small percentages of asbestos”
and described those levels as “slightly above the 1 percent trigger for defining asbestos material.” Cautionary
information in some releases is deleted altogether.
These rewrites are openly, disapprovingly discussed here by Nikki L. Tinsley, the E.P.A.’s former inspector general.
Many victims speak on camera for themselves, discussing their early symptoms (like nosebleeds and hacking coughs) and their
current battles with an array of serious illnesses.
Dr. Stephen M. Levin of Mount Sinai Hospital discusses the hospital’s screening program for World Trade Center responders
and a report showing that more than half of those screened had serious respiratory problems. But the most powerful statement
he makes is a simple one, about the workers’ fights to receive disability benefits and pay their medical bills: “These
people deserve better than that.”
Last week the results of a new, larger Mount Sinai study were announced. This one, covering almost 10,000 workers, revealed
that roughly 70 percent of them had new or worsened respiratory problems since Sept. 11, 2001.
It would be more difficult and even more frustrating to watch “Dust to Dust” if a Congressional subcommittee
did not appear to be taking action, as of Friday. Representative Jerrold Nadler has introduced a bill to cover these sick workers, downtown residents and neighborhood schoolchildren under Medicare. Representative
Carolyn B. Maloney has introduced a bill to reopen the Victim Compensation Fund to pay for those patients’ health care. Michael O. Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services, has appointed Dr. John O. Agwunobi, assistant secretary for health, to lead a task
force on the issue.
Meanwhile Mr. Baumann, who describes the cloud of smoke and debris at the beginning of the documentary, has heart disease,
lung scarring and nascent emphysema. He has never smoked, he says, and has been a vegetarian for 30 years. “At 43 I’m
having a quadruple bypass,” he says. “What’s causing that?”