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What's the tie between the World Trade Center and mesothelioma?

It's been 17 years since the collapse of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Unfortunately, that's still not long enough for many of the people who were near the World Trade Center that day or in Manhattan during the cleanup period to know if they will eventually develop an asbestos-related illness.

If you were anywhere near the tragedy at the World Trade Center and its aftermath, this is what you need to know:

Asbestos was used extensively during construction.

Asbestos was banned from use in construction partway through the completion of the Twin Towers, so none was used above the 40th floors. However, it had already been an extensive part of the construction materials below that point. Researchers estimate that somewhere between 300 and 400 tons of asbestos were used in the buildings -- much of it in the insulation.

All of the asbestos fibers that were in the buildings came down in a massive cloud of toxic dust on much of Manhattan. This dust eventually sickened many workers who participated in the cleanup efforts and made breathing difficult for others.

There is growing evidence of a toxic connection.

There were early reassurances from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the dust posed no serious health threats to the public. Unfortunately, as time has passed, this has been proven untrue. Several chronic respiratory diseases and about 50 known cancers have been associated with exposure to the toxic dust.

Scientists and doctors say that it is difficult to tie mesothelioma directly to the exposure to the dust from the World Trade Center, simply because there can be such a long gap between a victim's exposure to asbestos and the onset of mesothelioma. Patients can go more than 20 years without symptoms. However, many experts believe that diagnoses of mesothelioma and other cancers related to 9/11 exposure will be on the rise in the next few decades.

Take precautions if you were exposed.

If you were exposed to toxic dust in the days after 9/11, make sure that your doctor is aware of your history. That way, you can both keep watch for potential early symptoms of mesothelioma and other cancers. A good prognosis depends on early detection.

Anyone who suffers from mesothelioma following asbestos exposure would be wise to contact an experienced asbestos attorney to discuss their legal options.

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