World Trade Center Chemicals In Dust

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, unfolded through one unimaginable image after another. Airliners plunging into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Smoke streaming from the burning towers. The buildings seeming to collapse in upon themselves, and a massive dust cloud rolling through the streets as the sky rained concrete and steel.

Those who lived through that day remember people walking downtown as if painted with ash. The dust covered the streets like snow and coated belongings sometimes inches thick inside buildings with shattered or open windows.

Although no one knows precisely what was in the gas cloud of burning jet fuel and building materials, scientists since have identified the chemicals in the WTC dust — and their health effects. These health problems inspired the original September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, as well the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. The Zadroga Act renewed and expanded the VCF and also established the World Trade Center Health Program.

A Deadly Concoction

The WTC dust was a unique concoction of millions of tons of pulverized material: cement, drywall, steel, glass, insulation fibers, synthetic molecules from flooring and furniture, crushed computers and electrical equipment, hair and skin cells shed over decades. Also human remains.

These attacks were so unprecedented, first responders and civilians had inadequate experience with or guidelines for protecting themselves from toxic exposures, according to a 2015 article in the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology. So many firefighters, police personnel, and volunteers rushed to the crash site to help that most did not have access to personal protective equipment, such as respirators, the article says. Those who did have and use respirators over the following days often had to remove them within hours because the filters became clogged with dust.

Here are some of the known chemicals in WTC dust, along with their known side effects:

  • Acetone – used to make plastic, fibers, and other chemicals. Classified as a volatile organic compound (VOC). Can affect the nervous system.
  • Asbestos fibers – found in building materials. Known to cause inflammation and cancer, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.
  • Benzene – used to make plastics, resins, synthetic fibers, rubbers, lubricants, and dyes. Also a natural part of gasoline, crude oil, and cigarette smoke. A VOC that’s a known carcinogen affecting the nervous and immune systems.
  • Beryllium – found in mirrors and computers. Known to cause cancer. Can affect the respiratory system, the immune system, and the digestive tract.
  • Calcium hydroxide – found in cement. Irritates mucus membranes, such as those in the eyes, nose and throat.
  • Chlorine – found in paper, rugs, plastics, paint, and a variety of products. Can affect the eyes and the respiratory system.
  • Chromium – used in making steel, as well as dyes and pigments, tanning leather, and preserving wood. Known to cause cancer. Can affect the renal system, the immune system, and the respiratory system.
  • Copper – used in wire, plumbing, and sheet metal, and as a preservative for wood, leather, and fabrics. Can affect the digestive system and liver.
  • Gypsum/calcium sulfate – found in drywall. Can irritate the eyes, skin, or respiratory system.
  • Iron – found in building materials. Can irritate the respiratory tract if inhaled.
  • Lead – used in batteries, paints, ceramic products, caulking, and other materials. A probable carcinogen. Affects child development, the digestive system, the neurological system, the musculoskeletal system, and cardiovascular system, among others.
  • Manganese – a fuel additive in some gasolines. Can affect the respiratory and nervous systems.
  • Nickel – found in batteries, ceramics, and some chemical reactions. Naturally found in soil. A known carcinogen affecting the immune system, skin, cardiovascular system and respiratory system.
  • Potassium compounds – used in the manufacture of glass. Can irritate the eyes and respiratory system.
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – used in electrical equipment. Known as a carcinogen affecting the nervous system, the immune system, and skin. Also affects child development.
  • Silicon – a known carcinogen. Affects the immune system, respiratory system, and renal system.
  • Synthetic vitreous fibers (SVFs) – found in fiberglass, mineral wool, furnace insulation, and building insulation. Affects the respiratory system.
  • Toulene – another VOC used in making paints, plastics, fibers, lacquers, and adhesives. Also occurs in crude oil and produced in the process of making gasoline. Affects the nervous system and immune system.
  • Zinc – used to make paint, rubber, dyes, and wood preservatives. Can affect the digestive and respiratory systems.

How the Marcowitz Law Firm Can Help

If you or a deceased loved one was caught in the WTC dust cloud, or was exposed to the dust at Ground Zero and in lower Manhattan during the rescue, cleanup, or support efforts, you may be eligible for compensation for past and future lost wages under the Zadroga Act September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

The VCF provides compensation for anyone within an area known as the NYC Exposure Zone (roughly lower Manhattan south of Canal Street) who suffered physical harm from the 9/11 terrorist attacks or the immediate cleanup efforts. You can file a claim on behalf of yourself, as a parent or guardian of a minor, as a guardian of a non-minor, or as a personal representative of a deceased individual.

Thanks to a 2015 reauthorization of the Zadroga Act, you can submit a claim through December 31, 2020. You’ll need to establish where the victim was on September 11, 2001, and the following months, as well as provide information about any physical harm.

The Marcowitz Law Firm is dedicated to representing with compassion those who were injured by toxic exposures related to these attacks and their aftermath. Edward Marcowitz has virtually unparalleled experience in representing people affected by the World Trade Center attacks. He spearheaded one of the largest pro bono efforts on behalf of New York City firefighters and their families in recovering personal-injury compensation. He also serves as the personal attorney for the family of NYPD Detective James Zadroga, for whom the Zadroga Act is named.

If you’re unsure about whether you qualify to file a claim, or if you have questions about the filing process, we’re glad to speak with you. Please call us or contact us online now.

Contact Our Firm

Please fill out the form below & a member of our staff will contact you.


Our Offices

  • NYC Office


    225 Broadway
    3rd Floor
    New York, New York 10007