M.E, Gulf War Syndrome and the World Trade Center

I write this article with a sense that I am merely scratching at the surface here, that underneath all the findings I have unearthed, only few people have the answers and those people aren’t going to let go easily.

I’ve only ever been to America a few times and instantly fell in love with New York – I felt as if I could live there forever. Back in 2000/2001 I was happy, healthy, I had never heard of myalgic encephalomyelitis or Al Qaeda, never thought once about the effects of the Gulf War I had seen on television when I was a child until I became ill, never spared a thought for those veterans who served our country only to return tortuously ill, sick and destroyed.

My body is literally so full of toxins it doesn’t know how to function. I have brain dysfunction, massive immune system deficiencies, liver problems and infection outbreaks akin to someone with end stage AIDS. I am in a fragile state, I can feel my life slipping away and often find myself wondering how I ended up in such a mess.

My parents knew people in those towers. Luckily the husband in question didn’t go into work that day but as the 11th anniversary for the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington approaches I found myself wondering what happened to the first responders, the ones who worked in the toxic dust cloud for months on end and discovered our stories are not dissimilar, the only difference is that those men and women were heroes, I certainly don’t call myself a hero and have the utmost respect for every one of them.

Many first responders who came to the rescue the day the World Trade Centre was attacked on September 11th 2001 have been inflicted with a menagerie of unexplained physiological symptoms that have baffled many medical professionals.

In the same way that the US Centres for Disease Control and the UK Department of Health lack a specified cause for Gulf War Syndrome, WorldTradeCenter illness as it is now being known as, has a whole host of explainable causes, if one bothers to look. [1]

When the planes hit the towers, the 90,000 litres of burning jet fuel created a cloud of thick, black smoke containing benzene, metals, hydrocarbons and many other chemicals. A number of research studies also show the collapsed towers produced a dust cloud containing thousands of tons of course and fine particulate matter, including pulverized cement, soot, pesticides, leaded and unleaded paint, hydrochloric acid, fiberglass, asbestos, wood, paper, metals, and polychlorinated biphenyls. [2]

As stated by Alison Johnson, Chair of the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation, presented testimony at the WorldTradeCenter air quality hearing held in Lower Manhattan by U.S. EPA Ombudsman Robert Martin on February 23, 2002

“It took months and in many cases years for the sick Gulf War veterans to realize that they had developed this new sensitivity to everyday chemicals. New Yorkers living or working near Ground Zero also may not realize at first that the symptoms they have developed can now be exacerbated by exposure to chemicals that never bothered them before 9/11.” [3]

Doctors at the Mount SinaiClinicalCenter for the World Trade Center Program in New York City have seen about 20,000 people. Almost half of them have been referred for treatment but what about the symptoms they can’t or won’t treat?

Symptoms certain first responders are experiencing mirror those of M.E and Gulf War Syndrome and Neuroimmune Alliance believes there is a link – that of toxicity.

“In the week of September 12 to September 18, 2001, Mr. Copp experienced an overwhelming exposure to chemicals and fungi at the site of the WorldTradeCenter terrorist attacks. Previously healthy, Mr. Copp has now been rendered totally disabled. Because of the nature of the damage to his immune, respiratory and central nervous systems, there is little likelihood that his condition will improve to the point where he would be able to resume work.
– He is permantly disabled.” [4]

Copp has suffered from five respiratory diseases, cerebral edema, chemically induced brain damage, thousands of blisters and lesions on his hands and arms, and immune system attacks amongst many others.  His biggest concerns are going blind because of glaucoma and that he suffers from postural orthostatic hypotension (he becomes unconscious without any warning).  His eyes also have multiple problems including a distorted lens, optic nerve inflammation and times at which he cannot see in color.  Mr. Copp also suffers constantly from infections.

An excellent recent example of how illnesses such as fibromyalgia might be triggered occurred in the setting of the deployment of troops to liberate Kuwait during the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991. The term “Gulf War illnesses” is now commonly used to refer to a constellation of symptoms developed by some 10%–15% of the 7 00,000 US troops deployed to the Persian Gulf in the early 1990s. The symptoms, which include headaches, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, memory disorders and gastrointestinal distress (Fukuda et al 1998), were seen in troops deployed from the United Kingdom (UK) and other countries as well (Unwin et al 1999). The panels of experts who examined potential causes for these symptoms and syndromes found that the sickness could not be traced to any single environmental trigger, and noted the similarities between these individuals, and those diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Furthermore, similar syndromes involving multiple somatic symptoms have been noted in veterans of every war the US or UK has been involved in during the past century (Hyams et al 1996). This suggests that war may be an environment where individuals are simultaneously exposed to a multitude of “stressors. triggering the development of this type of illness in susceptible individuals (Clauw 2003).

For many of those who were in or around the WorldTradeCenter on that fateful day of September 11, 2001, life has never been the same. Not only as a result of the obvious psychological trauma but also because many have been left with a host of physical symptoms and illnesses that the medical profession in many cases is unable to explain or effectively treat.

When the WorldTradeCenter collapsed a toxic concoction of chemicals and fine particles from pulverised debris was created which was breathed in by anybody in the vicinity. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other organizations anybody at Ground Zero could have been exposed to potentially harmful levels of dust, diesel exhaust, pulverized cement, glass fibers, asbestos, benzene derivatives and other airborne contaminants.

In the months following 9/11 the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) repeatedly sampled the air at Ground Zero. The samples showed the presence of various contaminants including those listed above but in most cases they were within acceptable limits. As always however these limits are set in isolation; it is not known how being exposed to ‘acceptable’ levels of multiple contaminants all at the same time affects health. In addition, the levels of toxic contaminants being breathed in by anyone in the vicinity of the WTC on 9/11 itself will obviously have been many times higher than those measured days, weeks and months later.

Many survivors of the WTC collapse and the rescue workers that responded report a wide range of symptoms which include:

  • Respiratory Problems
  • Allergies
  • Repeated Infections
  • Depression
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Fatigue
  • Cognitive Difficulties
  • Gastointestinal Symptoms
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Hypersensitivity to Chemicals (as in Multiple Chemical Sensitivity)
  • Muscular Aches and Pains

The illnesses reported by those at the WTC on 9/11 are remarkably similar to Gulf War Syndrome, both in terms of symptoms, and in the circumstances in which they arose. In both cases people were exposed to a wide variety of toxins and physical stressors while at the same time being under extreme psychological stress. It seems that in some people the body is simply unable to cope with such an onslaught and the result is dysfunction that affects every cell, tissue, and organ.

So on September 11, 2001, there was born another syndrome to add to the growing list of conditions which cause untold misery to the sufferer and which medical science is at a loss to explain. WTC related illness can therefore be added to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Gulf War Syndrome, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and others which all share symptoms, proposed toxic/stress triggers, and testable abnormalities on blood and other diagnostic tests.

Beyond Ground Zero

After being contacted by Elizabeth Beckmann from the support organization Beyond Ground Zero, The Environmental Illness Resource has set up a section of the site dedicated to WorldTradeCenter related illness. Elizabeth has provided an introduction and will post further articles in the future. Anybody whose health was affected by the WTC collapse is welcome to comment on articles, submit their own story or other information related to WTC illness, and talk with others affected in a new forum section specifically for this subject.

To visit the Beyond Ground Zero section simply click here; or click ‘Beyond Ground Zero’ under the ‘Patient Columns’ menu on the left side of the site.

If you wish to contribute to the Beyond Ground Zero section please contact us at support@ei-resource.org

My best wishes to all who are suffering from illness related to the WTC collapse; my thoughts are with you as well as with those who lost loved ones that day.


 What interests us is how M.E sufferers are infected with the same or similar bacteria, fungi and toxins that are present in WTC workers who breathed in toxic fumes from the building collapse. Most M.E patients we have come across did not work excavating remains of collapsed buildings or work with chemicals and fumes yet they are as infected as those exposed. What is the secret behind this mystery?

Infections found in patients with M.E/CFS, some of which I am positive for myself are:

Candida albicans

Cladosporium herbarum

Aspergillus niger

Alternaria alternata

Penicillium chrysogenum

Aspergillus fumigatus Ig

Chlamydia pneumoniae

Chlamydia trachomatis



Ehrlichia chaffeensis-cani

Borrelia burgdorferi sl

Bartonella spp

Babesia spp.

Anaplasma phagocytophilum

Rickettsia spp.


Chlamydia Psittaci

Infectious agents in M.E/CFS has been a subject of controversy for many  years. It is the is the primary subject of journalist Hillary Johnson’s book “Osler’s Web” which I highly recommend ordering to understand this disease in its entireity. Oslers Web begins with the events of Incline Village, Nevada and the common finding of Chronic Epstein-Barr Virus infection. In 2009 it was subsequently thought to be a retroviral disease after the Whittemore Peterson Institute findings. The disease has been compared to late stage AIDS by Dan Peterson, it leaves its victims with severe neurological defects; studies over time have shown Epstein-Barr virus, Human Herpes Virus 6, Simian Cytomegalovirus (SCMV, an ‘atypical herpes simplex encephalitis) and Human Lymphotropic T-cell Virus. People, and I am one of them, reported their illness began with the flu or a flu like virus from which they never recovered. My particular virus of choice was Shingles. In Hillary Johnson’s Oslers Web, CFS patients complained to their doctors that “they felt as if they had been poisoned or were experiencing something akin to radiation sickness”; page 71, Osler’s Web. MRI Brain scans revealed many of these patients had “punctate lesions”.

Dr. Elizabeth Dowsett – says CFS “strikes one clinically as being polio-like and it has often been diagnosed as ‘nonparalytic polio’ “

Dr. Bill Douglass  – “The evidence is fairly convincing that Gulf War Syndrome is..vaccination-induced chronic fatigue syndrome….Salk and Sabin opened Pandora’s Box and we now have 72 types of polio rather than three” [for the 72 enterovirus types?] [5]

I am unsure how many Ground Zero workers or Gulf War vets have a confirmed diagnosis of M.E – it may be an untapped group of people who desperately need help like the rest of us but Neuroimmune Alliance is keen to find this group of people and see if we can help them.

A January 2002 article that remains posted on the Fox News website declared it “junk science.” It was/is the emergent illness which afflicted persons exposed to the debris of the WorldTradeCenter collapse. Unofficially called “World Trade Center Syndrome,” its distinctive feature was the “the WTC Cough,” and its symptoms included shortness of breath.

The article attributed the ills of the afflicted WTC cleanup crew members to the 2002 “flu season.” It furthermore attributed the ills of Manhattan residents to “anxiety salted with hypochondria.” Its conclusion was that only “minor and transient health effects from the site” were to be expected. The conclusion was wrong.

A newly emerged illness had just made the scene, and just as quickly on the scene was a political operative ridiculing people’s notice of it. Then came November 30, 2004, when it was officially disclosed that some of the afflicted crew members of the ground zero cleanup operation were actually suffering from the trapping of air. These workers were suffering from Small Airways Disease, and it was the end-expiratory CT scan that confirmed it to be true. The standard chest CT scan overlooked it.[6]

Denial? Sound familiar?




[1] Raphael, K., Natelson, B., Janal, M., and Nayak, S. A community-based survey of fibromyalgia-like pain complaints following the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. Pain, 100:131-139, 2002. Abstract


[2] (PCBshttp://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44263614/ns/us_news-9_11_ten_years_later/t/world-trade-center-dust-witches-brew-toxins/#.TyRTvYHpeNY


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