The dust from the collapsed World Trade Center towers does not appear to be toxic according to an ongoing study being conducted at Strong Medical Center. The study, headed by Dr. Jacob Finkelstein, Professor of Environmental Medicine, Pediatrics and Radiation Oncology and Dr. Gunter Oberdorster, Professor of Environmental Medicine, is measuring the health effects of the dust to determine the risk of illness to humans.
“The goals of the overall project are to look at different aspects of the impact of the dust,” Finkelstein said. Because of its significance, it has garnered a large amount of attention. “We don’t often get something people care so much about in the short term,” he added.
Results so far have shown that the dust does not appear to negatively affect human health more than any other dust. “The dusts themselves have no intrinsic toxicity,” Finkelstein said. “The short term risk of dust alone having a toxic effect is minimal.”
The project, supported by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is being carried out using lung cells and exposing them to dust collected from various areas in a radius around the World Trade Center site. The samples were collected from both indoor and outdoor sites, then the settled dust was reanimated and stored by particle size.
Findings suggest the dust is mainly cement dust, which does not change cell structure and cause infection or inflammation of the lungs. Potentially harmful metals such as lead were found in minimal amounts.This project is a joint one, with UR collaborating alongside New York University researchers and community outreach workers to complete the study.
Dina Markowitz, Assistant Professor of Environmental Medicine and Director of Community Outreach and Education Programs for the Environmental Health Sciences Center, commented on their relations.
“We have a longstanding partnership,” she said. “We’ve worked with them for a long time. It’s a really good relationship.”
Both the Environmental Protection Agency and NYU had scientists collecting dust samples immediately after the towers collapsed. “There were people driving down there a day after it happened, going through the road blocks to collect samples,” Markowitz said.
A short while later, the EPA sent out an announcement to groups asking them to begin studies on the dust samples collected. As Finkelstein explained, “Each [group] has particular specialties. Inhalation toxicology is something that Rochester is noted for, all over.”
The EPA has issued a report stating that illness stemming from inhaling the dust is unlikely. However, these follow up studies were done not only to fully examine the dust with the various strengths of these institutions, but also to appease the public.
Packets of information will be released and public meetings will be held by September when the project is completed. Finkelstein said the study information will be made public. “This is not a secret. It’s not a vast conspiracy. We want to know what’s there and we want people to know about it.”
Known samples of dust compared to the World Trade Center samples determined if the results of inhalation are any different than known outcomes from the control samples. Findings show there is no significant effect on short term long term, general or immunological health. “There is not enough [toxicity] to change any long term immunological data, but they had to look,” Finkelstein said.
The study also hopes to examine the relationship, if any, between occurring illness and the amount of dust. “They’ll be seeing if people have more respiratory problems, and if they can correlate those illnesses,” Markowitz said.
Asbestos was also brought up as a concern, as it is well-known as a dangerous dust. “It’s the one dust that everyone knows is bad.” Finkelstein said. However, little asbestos was found at the World Trade Center site. “There were some asbestos fibers, but unless someone was exposed every day for many days, it would never cross the threshold of being dangerous,” Finkelstein added.
With the first part of the study now completed, the final phase will begin — testing to see if the dust will effect a person’s immunological response. Using influenza viruses, tests will be run to determine whether exposure will effect the immune system’s ability to respond to viral infection.The study hopes to examine the relationship, if any, between occurring illnesses and the amount of dust.
“They’ll be seeing if people have more respiratory problems, and if they can correlate those illnesses,” Markowitz said. She was positive about the results. “At first glance, this is good news. This should put people’s minds at ease.”