NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 13, 2005

The Sierra Club has accused the Bush administration of acting with "reckless disregard" over the purported health risks posed by toxic smoke released during the September 11 attacks. But the environmental group?s accusation is based on a fuzzy interpretation of the data, says Steven Milloy of the Cato Institute.

In an August report, the Sierra Club claimed increases in symptoms of coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath among a sample of lower Manhattan residents. Moreover, they cited an increase in new-onset asthma in Chinatown based on a study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

However, the conclusions of the Sierra Club's report were vague and do not seem to match the data, says Milloy:

  • The lower Manhattan sample was relatively small, and the report was "sketchy," with no indication whether the symptoms were short-term or would actually translate into long-term health effects.
  • The Journal study of supposed new-onset asthma cases was based on an increase in asthma clinic visits and prescriptions written, but the study did not indicate that the increases were a result of newly-diagnosed asthma or even an increased use of asthma medications.
  • The Sierra Club expects that harm from dust and debris will manifest itself in the form of lung cancer 10 to 30 years down the road; however, the majority of lung cancer cases occur among heavy smokers, and is less likely from temporary dust and debris.

Moreover, the Sierra Club report also predicted an increase in mesothelioma cases over time. Mesothelioma can and does occur in asbestos workers who experience long-term exposure to asbestos dust, but the asbestos levels at the World Trade Center were extremely low and were mainly chrysotile, the least hazardous type. Indeed a 1998 study in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that such exposure does not increase cancer risk.

Source: Steven Milloy, "Claims of Post-9/11 Health Risks Show 'Reckless Disregard' for the Truth," Environment and Climate News, vol. 7, no. 9, October 2004; Report, "Air Pollution (and Deception) at Ground Zero," Sierra Club; Anthony M. Szema, et. al., "Clinical deterioration in pediatric asthmatic patients after September 11, 2001," Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, vol. 113, no. 3, March 2004; and Michel Camus, "Nonoccupational Exposure to Chrysotile Asbestos and the Risk of Lung Cancer," New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 338, no.22, May 28, 1998.

For Sierra Club report summary


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