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March 15, 2005
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Shawn Hughes WMD and Bomb Disposal Issues
with Shawn Hughes

WTC Cough: Keep out the 'nastiness' - wear your mask

You may be following this, but in case you're not, there seems to be a new epidemic affecting the public and especially Public Safety. It is being called WTC cough, and until recently, wasn't being taken very seriously.

You may recall that I have discussed previously how critical masks are in any major rescue event. Not so much from a WMD, but consider: most buildings are a few to many tens of years old. There is a consistent build up of dust, guano, and other types of nastiness. Couple this with the particulate matter generated by structural debris; concrete dust, insulation, etc., and you have a very nasty chronic airway hazard. In fact, the dust 'plume' from ground zero was so noticeable that NASA satellite imagery even detected it.

If you look at any of the photography from 9/11, you notice the thin, white film that clung tenaciously to everything. Yet, many chose to forego the use of even a basic respirator. While their heroism is undeniable, the subsequent damage to their lungs may be a permanent footnote to their participation. As silent testimony to the danger, the numbers of respiratory cases presenting to clinicians in the footprint of the dust plume has skyrocketed.

Occupational Health Specialist Dr. Steven Levin confirms this, stating in an interview that he has personally treated more than 1,000 inhabitants of ground zero for pulmonary issues since the incident.

The problem arose when the EPA, who conducted routine air sampling in New York prior to the event, and upgraded their efforts during the clean up, found little evidence to corroborate the spike in illnesses.

EPA Spokeswoman Bonnie Bellow stated in a release that air quality never fell below national limits, even in the immediate hours post-impact. Agreeing with the EPA, NYC Assistant Commissioner of Health Dr. Jessica Leighton told reporters that only one percent of sample sites in the Lower Manhattan area ever tested above thresholds for air pollutants.

What I am learning, readers, is that both sides may be right. Several studies point to the presence of microscopic shards of glass as the culprit. Glass is an excellent transporter and incubator for antigens, molds, and bacteria. Unlike other irritants, the sharp points of the glass fragments resist the lungs' efforts to expel them, causing long-term issues. Unfortunately, routine air samples wouldn't have detected glass particulate matter.

And, this may not even be a new phenomena. A paper describing an eerily similar situation was written shortly after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1981.

I will try to keep abreast of the situation as it develops. At any rate, it serves as a stark reminder to always consider a respirator as part of your protective gear.

Until next time,

-- Shawn


About the author

Shawn Hughes is an often controversial veteran Patrol Officer and Bomb Technician who now works for a Federal agency, but still consults for various agencies and private corporations when he isn’t writing or teaching. His articles have been published in three countries on two continents. He's written for the majority of law enforcement publications in the US, including the NTOA’s Tactical Edge, the IABTI’s Detonator, SWAT, Police, and others. His second book, on obtaining a job in Law Enforcement, is out now, with a third on lock technology in development. He can be reached at srh@esper.com .





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