Environments of Terror: 9/11, World Trade Center Dust, and the Global Nature of New York’s Toxic Bodies


Brett L. Walker


Environmental History


On September 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (WTC), they released a toxic bomb that enveloped Lower Manhattan. Nobody knows the amount of toxins that WTC workers, first responders, and Lower Manhattan residents were exposed to from the initial dust plume, but with an alarming spike in cancer deaths among people involved in the 9/11 emergency, the exposure amount was surely high. Among those toxins released was asbestos, which had coated parts of the steel skeleton of the iconic structures. An alphabet soup of dangerous substances mined and extracted from around the world now reside in the bodies of New Yorkers, making them artifacts of the global Anthropocene Epoch. The toxic dust plume from the WTC served as a warning sign of the dangers that occur when the infrastructure of the modern built environment, constructed as it is from asbestos and other hazardous materials extracted globally, comes tumbling down during acts of terrorism and war.



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