Saturday, December 17, 2011

Asbestos, The Twin Towers and 9/11

(Click on the image to enlarge).

The above ad reads:

The bigger the building, the more important fire-proofing becomes.
That’s why today’s buildings have asbestos-cement walls and even floors containing asbestos.
Asbestos contains fire, cannot burn and hoolds up after metal and glass have melted down, giving vital time for people to escape.
You’ll also find asbestos sealing plumbing joints, insulating heating pipes, electric motors and emergency generators.
Asbestos.  We couldn’t live the way we do without it.
When life depends on it, you use asbestos.

Asbestos was not always the villain that it is today.  Some other ads promote the use of asbestos in various situations:

I came across the first ad above when I was looking up information for an earlier post about the inappropriate use of children in advertising, specifically for the Du Pont cellophane ads. 
The ad promotes the benefits of asbestos - "When life depends on it, you use asbestos.” – and dates from 1981.  This means that the fire referred to is the fire that took place on the 11th floor of the World Trade Centre on 12 February, 1975.  The fire spread to other floors but was contained by fireproofing, as the advertisement states, and was able to be extinguished in a few hours.  The WTC towers had no sprinkler systems at the time.

The above ads has been made creepy because of events which have taken place since and because of current awareness of the high risk of serious illness associated with asbestos use, notably the lung cancer mesothelioma which is caused by inhalation of asbestos fibres or airborne  asbestos particles.

Because the use of asbestos ceased in the US following reports of asbestos workers becoming ill from high exposure to asbestos fibres, I suspect that the 1981 ad was an exercise in PR by the asbestos industry against increasing public hostility. 

In 1971 New York City banned the use of asbestos in spray fireproofing.   At that time, asbestos insulating material had only been sprayed up to the 64th floor of the World Trade Centre towers.  Other materials were used in place of asbestos but some critics maintained that such materials would not provide insulation.  One such critic was Herbert Levine, who had invented spray fireproofing in the late 1940’s.  His combination of asbestos with mineral wool enabled the construction of large steel framed buildings.  Previously such buildings, such as the Empire State Building, had to have their steel frames insulated with concrete, a much more expensive and difficult process.  Levine repeatedly had predicted that "if a fire breaks out above the 64th floor, that building will fall down."

The presence of asbestos in the WTC towers has caused serious concern as to the ongoing risk of illness resulting from airborne asbestos from the collapse of the towers and the subsequent demolition.

In this regard:

·        Mesothelioma can manifest up to 40 years after exposure.  In a US review of occupationally related mesothelioma cases, the median latency was 32 years. 

·       From the website Mesothelioma:  Asbestos and Mesothelioma Resources at

First responders and New York City residents are dying of mesothelioma and being sickened with other asbestos-related disease.  Doctors and scientists have long predicted that, in years to come, we’d be seeing an onslaught of mesothelioma cases in greater New York City, caused by the tons of asbestos that rained down on fire fighters, police officers, paramedics, and those who lived and worked near the World Trade Centre.

…those who remained in the city during and after the tragedy will attest to the fact that most of Lower Manhattan was covered with a grayish dust; what’s been reported as a frightening combination of substances such as glass shards, asbestos, fiberglass, pulverised concrete, lead, mercury, cadmium, dioxins, and PCB’s.  

Many first responders suffered almost immediate health problems, developing what officials and doctors dubbed “The World Trade Center Cough.”  One study showed that more than 85% of those who initially responded to the tragedy were suffering from some sort of respiratory ailment.  

Those who’ve studied the potential hazard of asbestos caused by the collapse of the World Trade Centre estimate that more than 110,000 people may have suffered serious exposure including 80,000 tower workers, 30,000 local residents, and 4,000 first responders. 

·         According to Ed Pilkington in an article dated 11.11.2009 from The Guardian, at:
more than 1,000 tonnes of asbestos was released into the air by the destruction of the twin towers.

Importantly, Pilkington points out that a spate of recent deaths of New York police and fire officers who took part in the emergency operation at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks has heightened fears that it could be the start of a delayed epidemic of cancer-related illness.

Claire Calladine, a campaigner who runs the organisation 9/11 Health Now, said the fear was that the recent rise in cancer cases was just the start.  "We have only seen the tip of the iceberg. How bad will it get – that is the big question."


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