New UNC, EPA 9/11 study suggests that pollutants posed small cancer risks

On Sept. 11, 2001, when hijacked jetliners smashed into the World Trade Center, stunning the world, collapse of the twin towers and the fires that followed lofted an estimated million tons of dust and smoke into the air of New York City. After the first 100 days when officials declared the fires extinguished, trucks and other heavy equipment involved in the cleanup continued to spew pollutants in the form of soot into the atmosphere.

To help assess the health threat of a group of cancer-causing chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the smoke and soot, scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency monitored PAHs from Sept. 23, 2001 to March 27, 2002. The fires and diesel equipment used in the cleanup produced the PAHs, as did cars and buses in New York City.

"We found that the levels of PAHs were very high soon after 9/11 about 65 times the normal values but that they diminished rapidly over the next month or so as fires were extinguished," said Dr. Stephen M. Rappaport, professor of environmental health at the UNC School of Public Health. "Because the PAH levels were only high for a short time, we concluded that there was little increase in lifetime cancer risk from these compounds among people living in the vicinity of the World Trade Center. That was assuming that people lived in that vicinity for 70 years.

"At the same time, we are concerned that there might be harmful effects among the offspring of women living nearby who were or became pregnant at the time these exposures occurred," Rappaport said. "A particular effect that has been associated with PAH exposure is a condition known as intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), which results in babies being born smaller than they otherwise would be. Another group of scientists reported last year that IUGR was more common among women living close to Ground Zero on 9/11 than those living in other parts of

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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