One of the reasons the United States federal government banned asbestos was its association with so many diseases, including lung cancer. New York City’s exposure to asbestos increased substantially after the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001. Since then, researchers have learned more about the link between asbestos exposure and lung cancer and how this risk affects New York City residents.

Asbestos Exposure and Asbestos-Related NYC Lung Cancer

Everyone is exposed to low levels of asbestos in the air, soil and water. Inhalation of asbestos fibers leading to lung cancer could theoretically come from any one of these sources. However, it is prolonged, daily exposure to asbestos that most often leads to disease. Usually, it takes 10 to 40 years after exposure for symptoms of an asbestos-related disease to develop. 

Since the World Trade Center’s destruction, New York City residents have had an increased risk of asbestos-related lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases. This risk is especially high for 9-11 first responders and New Yorkers who live and work in the surrounding area. When the twin towers collapsed, hundreds of tons of asbestos were propelled into the atmosphere. Because it takes so long for asbestos-related lung cancer to develop, we do not yet know how many cases have resulted from 9-11-related asbestos exposure. However, we know from a 2018 study that white male 9-11 firefighters experience significantly greater rates of other kinds of cancer than expected for a population with similar demographics.1

Risk Factors for Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer

Asbestos is a carcinogenic mineral frequently used in the construction, shipbuilding, and automotive industries for its resistance to chemicals, heat, and fire, and its inability to conduct electricity. Given its significant health concerns, in 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency banned all new applications of asbestos. However, asbestos exposure is still one of the most common occupational hazards. Professions with the highest risk of exposure to asbestos include 

  • Construction
  • Demolition
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining and milling 
  • Automobile repair 
  • Firefighting

An additional risk factor for asbestos-related lung cancer is smoking. The risk of developing lung cancer for people who smoke and are exposed to asbestos is greater than the individual risks from smoking and asbestos exposure added together. Moreover, quitting smoking decreases the risk of lung cancer in workers exposed to asbestos.2

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer symptom surveillance and monitoring are recommended for individuals who have experienced long-term, occupational, or environmental exposure to asbestos. This recommendation is even stronger for 9-11 first responders and New Yorkers who live and work in the area surrounding what used to be the World Trade Center.

The hallmark symptoms of lung cancer include

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss

Additional symptoms of lung cancer may include

  • Coughing up blood
  • Hoarseness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Upper body swelling
  • Wheezing
  • High-pitched whistling sound with inspiration
  • Shoulder pain, arm pain, and back pain

If you have experienced prolonged exposure to asbestos and are currently experiencing symptoms concerning for lung cancer, it is important that you make an appointment to see your healthcare provider. He or she can assess your overall health and your risk for lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases. 

Asbestos-Related NYC Lung Cancer