By Paul J. Lioy
Memorial Day 2011 has just passed, and during the Spring of 2011 another page in the fight against terrorism and the need to be prepared for the unknown. Tom Kean, who has commented widely about preparedness, is still correct because even with the death of Osama Bin Laden threats remain high against our country’s people and infrastructure, and his words should be a reminder that being prepared for terrorist events is an important part of our country’s responsibility to protect and defend. The 10th Anniversary of the deadly attacks on the WTC, United flight 93, and the Pentagon is also just around the corner. They will be solemn occasions that will provide an opportunity to educate those who were too young to remember or are part of the next generation. Since the publication of Dust: the Inside Story of Its role in Role in the September 11th Aftermath, I have talked to many individuals and groups, and recorded interviews, about the reasons for writing the book. In my discussions, it became clear that people wanted to know how the results of our analyses of the dust were used to understand exposure and health response relationships. In reviewing what has been written since publication of my book, the actual health effects experienced by the workers/volunteers remain highly correlated with the time of a person’s arrival at Ground Zero, and whether or not he or she was wearing a respirator during their completion of Ground Zero related activities over time. Based upon all my conversations with physicians and other environmental health professionals, my hypotheses remain consistent: the unknown or unquantifiable gases released during the jet fuel fires were part of the etiology of the diseases derived from the aerosol that contained the WTC Dust and inhaled by the workers/volunteers during the first days after the collapse of the towers. However, they cannot be realistically reconstructed in toxicological tests because they would have to include both the WTC Dust and combustion gases released by “uncontrolled” fires caused by the burning jet fuel.
The reader response to other important aspects of my story has come as sort of a surprise. Many were associated with the content of Chapter 12 which deals with the lessons learned and the lessons that still need to be learned from 9-11. These are linked specifically to the 5 Rs + 1: Rescue, Re-entry, Recovery, Restoration and Rehabitation. The Plus 1 is Resilience. Because of the natural events that have occurred since 9-11 (e.g. earthquake and Tsunami in Japan), and military actions overseas, I have had opportunities to describe the levels of completion or success using the 5 Rs for some of those incidents. As a member of the general public you can use my 5Rs to grade us all on the actions and the outcomes of those actions that can and do occur in natural and terrorist events.
Paul J. Lioy is a Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He is Deputy Director for Government Relations and Director of Exposure Science at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute of Rutgers University and RWJMS-UMDNJ. Dr. Lioy is the author of Dust: The Inside Story of its Role in the September 11th Aftermath.