911 World Trade Center Attack – Medical Support Role

On September 11, 2001, following the deliberate impact of airplanes by terrorists in the 911 World Trade Center Attack, the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, NY, collapsed, sending billowing clouds of dark particulate matter into the air.

911 World Trade Center Attack - Medical Support Role Dr. Robert Latkany

Dr. Robert Latkany was on scene at ground zero on the night of September 11, and participated in the eye care of the firefighters, police, and other first responders. The particulate matter lodged in the eyes of first responders, hampering rescue efforts, causing pain, redness and blurry vision. The dangerous air quality threatened the future eye health of all those present.

Because of the unknown content of particles in the air, those treating first responders were cautious in their treatment approach in order to ensure the safety of their patients.

Dr. Latkany treated New York World Trade Center first responders with the same careful and expertise in which he treats all of his eye patients. Of course less than optimal working conditions and the extraordinary circumstances at ground zero brought difficult issues to all those treating first responders.

Known contents of the particles in the air included cement, drywall, glass, insulation (made from asbestos and fiberglass), organic particulates from burning plastic such as polyvinyl chloride, PCBs, dioxins and other polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, and metals such as lead, copper, iron oxide, and cadmium, and of course smoke from smoldering debris. The constant exposure to smoke, dust and debris was taking its toll on the eyes of the tireless workers. Hundreds of workers needed eye care, including simple irrigation to more difficult treatment of eye abrasions.

In addition, treatment providers, along with heroic rescue workers, worked at ground zero with lighting provided by available generators brought to the site. In those early hours of this disaster, many rescue workers had insufficient eye or skin protection, but they refused to be deterred from the rescue effort.

While we certainly hope to never treat you under such extraordinary, horrific conditions, our New York City eye care specialists provide treatment and discuss appropriate protections for those working in extreme and adverse environments.