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CSF Board Members

Alison Johnson, Chair
Topsham, Maine

Varda Burstyn
Peterborough, Ontario

Pamela Gibson, PhD
Churchville, Virginia

Jeffrey May
Tyngsborough, Massachusetts

L. Christine Oliver, MD
Boston, Massachusetts

Robert Weggel
Reading, Massachusetts


World Trade Center Disaster

The Toxic Clouds of 9/11: A Looming Health Disaster

Alison Johnson, Chair of the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation, presented testimony at the World Trade Center air quality hearing held in Lower Manhattan by U.S. EPA Ombudsman Robert Martin on February 23, 2002. Excerpts appear below.

As an author and a video producer/director, I have carried out extensive research into the conditions known as multiple chemical sensitivity and Gulf War syndrome. I believe that as the weeks and months pass, the relevance of these conditions to exposure to the toxic fumes and dust from the World Trade Center disaster will become all too apparent.

The latest epidemiological study indicates that 34 percent of the veterans who served in the Gulf War, or over 200,000 men and women, are now suffering from serious health problems. While these veterans faced many different toxic exposures in the Persian Gulf, one of their worst exposures was to the 600 oil well fires that burned for months. Many veterans have described smoke so thick that it was hard to distinguish day from night. Colonel Herbert Smith recalls: "When you spit, it looked like oil. When you blew your nose, it looked like axle grease." When Staff Sergeant Anne Selby returned from the war and kept contracting what her doctors described as atypical pneumonia, they discovered that her lungs were full of what they called "oily debris." She is now permanently disabled by a scarring of the tissue of the surface of her lungs.

This prolonged exposure of Coalition forces to toxic smoke from the oil well fires, a smoke that also contained very fine particles of blowing desert sand, has enough in common with the exposures of New Yorkers to the World Trade Center fires to warrant further consideration. All the veterans with whom I have spoken are now very sensitive to everyday chemical exposures. For example, almost all the sick veterans report that breathing diesel exhaust or the fumes from gasoline or diesel fuel makes them feel nauseated or makes them vomit. They also report that since the Gulf War they have become extremely sensitive to everyday things like perfume, aftershave, pesticides, fresh paint, or cleaning products.

It took months and in many cases years for the sick Gulf War veterans to realize that they had developed this new sensitivity to everyday chemicals. New Yorkers living or working near Ground Zero also may not realize at first that the symptoms they have developed can now be exacerbated by exposure to chemicals that never bothered them before 9/11.

On February 11 a Senate subcommittee chaired by Senators Joe Lieberman and Hilary Clinton held a hearing in Lower Manhattan to investigate WTC air quality. Dr. Steven Levin of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine noted the development of chemical sensitivity among some of the WTC disaster patients they have been seeing at their clinic: "Some of our patients once away from Lower Manhattan have noticed a general improvement in their symptoms but find that exposure to cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust, cleaning solutions, perfume, or other airborne irritants provokes reoccurrence of their symptoms in ways they never experienced before 9/11."

Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who represents the district surrounding the World Trade Center site, has been one of the few people within federal, state, or local government who has been willing to resist the economic interests pushing for a return to normalcy despite potential health risks near Ground Zero. He has called for the federal government to institute a massive professional cleanup of the interiors of dust-laden buildings near the WTC site in order to protect the health of those living and working in the area. On February 11, Congressman Nadler presented his views on what he sees as a public health crisis when he testified at a U.S. Senate WTC air quality hearing chaired by Senators Joseph Lieberman and Hillary Clinton.




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