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9/11 & Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls

September 14, 2023 In 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

When the World Trade Center towers were attacked on September 11th, 2001, thousands of lives were claimed. Additionally, a large number of first responders, recovery workers, residents, and other individuals were exposed to a hazardous mix of contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). If you were injured due to PCB exposure, a 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund attorney may be able to help you file a claim for compensation.

Person Hospitalized After Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls

What Are Polychlorinated Biphenyls?

PCBs are a group of synthetic organic chemicals composed of carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine atoms. These substances are usually odorless and tasteless, and they can vary in consistency from being oil-like to having a waxy, solid texture. As human-made organic compounds, PCBs were actively manufactured in the United States as early as 1929.

Thanks to their non-flammability, chemical stability, high boiling point, and insulation capabilities, PCBs were widely used in many industrial and commercial applications. Given the environmental and health concerns linked to PCBs, their production was officially prohibited in 1979 under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Before the ban, you could find PCBs in many products, including:

  • Electrical equipment
  • Heat transfer systems
  • Hydraulic equipment
  • Paints, plastics, and rubber products
  • Pigments and dyes
  • Carbonless copy paper

The Potential Health Effects of PCB Exposure

PCB exposure poses a range of potential health risks, including cancer, immune system suppression, reproductive issues, neurological deficits, and disruptions in the endocrine system. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), researchers have discovered disturbing links between these substances and devastating health problems in both animal and human studies.


PCBs have been proven to cause cancer in studies involving animals. This raises concerns about their potential to cause cancer in humans. Research on people exposed to PCBs at work has shown higher rates of rare liver cancers and malignant melanoma.

This similarity between animal and human studies suggests that PCBs likely increase the risk of cancer in people. Many authoritative organizations, including the EPA, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, consider PCBs to be a probable human carcinogen.

Immune System Effects

Our immune system defends us against infections, so any harm to it is a significant concern. Studies on monkeys and other animals have found that PCB exposure can weaken the immune system. This includes reducing the size of the thymus gland in infant monkeys, making it harder for their immune system to function.

PCB-exposed animals also had weaker immune responses and were more susceptible to infections like Epstein-Barr virus. Research in humans suggests that PCB exposure increases the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer, especially in those infected with the Epstein-Barr virus.

Reproductive Health Problems

PCB exposure can affect the reproductive system, causing problems in both animals and humans. Studies on animals like monkeys have shown that PCBs can lead to lower birth weights, reduced conception rates, and fewer live births. In rats, PCB exposure decreased sperm counts. Human studies have also linked PCB exposure to lower birth weights and shorter pregnancies among women working in factories with PCB exposure.

Neurological Effects

Proper brain development is crucial for learning and overall health. Studies on animals, including monkeys, have revealed that PCBs can harm neurological development. For example, newborn monkeys exposed to PCBs had persistent problems with visual recognition, short-term memory, and learning. Similar issues, such as learning deficits, have been observed in humans exposed to PCBs.

Endocrine Problems

The endocrine system, which regulates hormones, can also be affected by PCB exposure. Although more research is needed in this area, studies have shown that PCBs can lower thyroid hormone levels in both animals and humans.

Thyroid hormones are vital for normal growth and development. Reduced thyroid hormone levels have been associated with developmental issues, like hearing problems in rodents. In some cases, PCB exposure has also been linked to thyroid hormone changes in infants.

How 9/11 Raised People’s Risk of PCB Exposure

After the Twin Towers collapsed, a massive dust cloud engulfed lower Manhattan. This cloud was a toxic combination of cement dust, asbestos, and persistent organic pollutants, including PCBs. Many people were exposed to dust particles as they assisted in the rescue and recovery efforts, searched for missing loved ones, or went to work or school in the surrounding area.

The pulverized electronic equipment, burnt plastics, and destroyed electrical systems added significantly to the toxic cocktail of dust, releasing PCBs into the environment. This amplified the risks for individuals who were exposed to the remnants of the World Trade Center.

The heat from the resultant fires and the abrasive actions during recovery efforts likely released even more PCBs. This particularly hazardous environment was exacerbated by the lack of appropriate protective gear initially available to first responders and recovery workers. Furthermore, as these toxins settled in the area, the risk continued for residents and those returning to work or school in the months following the terrorist attacks.

How to Seek Compensation Through the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

Recognizing the profound impacts of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. government established the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. This fund is designed to offer financial assistance to those who have been affected by these devastating events, including people who developed health problems due to PCBs.

If you have been affected by 9/11-related health problems, the VCF presents an avenue to recovery. To seek compensation through this program, you will need to keep the following three steps in mind:

  • Registration: You can initiate your claim by registering with the VCF online. You will need to provide basic information to complete this process, including your name, address, phone number, Social Security number, and date of birth.
  • Certification: To be eligible for compensation, you must be certified by the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) for a physical health condition. This certification confirms that your health issues are directly linked to the 9/11 events or the aftermath. You can get certified by the WTCHP at any time until 2090.
  • Claim Submission: After obtaining certification, the next step is to file your claim. Ensure that you include all required supporting documentation and complete your claim online. The final deadline for submission has been extended to October 1, 2090.

While the process might seem straightforward, navigating the intricacies of the VCF, understanding eligibility criteria, and ensuring all documentation is correctly filed can be overwhelming. In these situations, you need an attorney on your side who can guide you through the process.

Consulting with a lawyer can provide clarity, direction, and the necessary support to navigate the VCF claims process effectively. If you have suffered PCB exposure due to 9/11, schedule a consultation with a VCF claims attorney to discuss your next steps.