December 6, 2006
Contact: Jerry Carey
Phone: (856) 566-6171
U.S. Needs More Work on Human Exposure Measurement
and Reduction Strategies for 9/11 Type Attacks
PISCATAWAY — According to an analysis featured in the cover story of the November 15 edition of the scientific journal, Environmental Science and Technology, the United States still needs to understand more clearly the human exposures from the collapse of the World Trade Center collapse and incorporate that information into preparedness exercises.
“Five years after the attack, the complex mixture of dust, smoke, and gases that were initially suspended in the air following the attack remains a scientific mystery. That’s because the measuring devices needed during those initial hours just were not available,” said Dr. Paul Lioy, a professor at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI) at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and one of the article’s three authors.
“Even today, short-term acute exposure standards still don’t exist for WTC-type emissions and most disaster preparedness exercises still don’t include clearly defined monitoring plans for the aftermath of a similar type of attack,” Dr. Lioy added. “Too often, these exercises do not focus on simulating the tracking of the potential spread of contaminants and also fail to simulate the types of human activities after an attack that may lead to severe exposures and ultimately acute or chronic health effects.”
Following the collapse of the World Trade Center, the dust that settled at Ground Zero and the surrounding areas was analyzed in detail, but the subsequent exposures and health outcomes have not been thoroughly understood by the scientific community. Right after the attacks, most of the initial assessments searched for asbestos, but 98 percent of the dust turned out to be made of what the authors called “supercoarse particles.” These particles were created by the pulverization of the buildings, their incomplete combustion and subsequent re-suspension in the air during the rescue and recovery operation. Most of these particles were coated with “ chemicals of potential concern” the authors reported.
“These types of particles are deposited in the nasal passages and penetrate farther into the upper and lower respiratory system when exposure is intense, as it was in the days following 9/11. This situation was complicated by the presence of gases of unknown concentrations” Dr. Lioy said. The authors noted that more than 3,000 New York Fire Department firefighters have been treated for respiratory disease since the attack and that permanent respiratory disability among this group is three to five times higher than it was in the years before the attack. There is still no “supercoarse particle” community standard for acute exposure situations like that which happened at the WTC.
“Disaster preparedness requires that we develop an effective, universal disaster plan, with disaster-specific components, including ‘on-the-ground’ protocols for quickly assessing the population exposures and extent of any contamination. This is the work of human exposure science, which EOHSI has be doing for over 20 years and now applying to homeland security issues in New Jersey and elsewhere ” Dr. Lioy said. Finally, the authors stated that national plans should automatically include a disaster registry that will serve as a record of population exposure history from which future healthcare notifications can be made directly to those exposed to hazardous substances.
To request an interview with Dr. Lioy, please contact Jerry Carey, UMDNJ News Service, at (856) 566?6171 or (973) 972?5000. The complete text of the article is available at http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/esthag/40/i22/html/111506feature_lioy.html.
UMDNJ is the nation's largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,500 students attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health, on five campuses. Last year, there were more than two million patient visits to UMDNJ facilities and faculty at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a mental health and addiction services network.