In 2010, researchers reported the presence of carbon nanotubes in the lungs of WTC first responders. Carbon nanotubes are high-tech nanostructured materials, which exhibit unique properties like ballistic conduction. The health effects of carbon nanotubes have been shown to be similar to the health effects produced by exposure to asbestos.
Carbon nanotube formation requires three basic components: a source of carbon, a source of heat, and the presence of certain metals. In particular, formation of the single walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) found in the lungs of first responders requires that the metals be present. All of these requirements were met at the WTC site on, and for months after, September 11, 2001.
The three most effective metals for the synthesis of SWCNTs are iron, nickel and cobalt. Both iron and nickel were present in high concentrations near Ground Zero, as shown by aerosol testing done by a team from the University of California, Davis. Iron oxide and nickel oxide are common oxidants in thermite mixtures.
Airborne carbon compounds were certainly present in abundance at Ground Zero in the form of particulate matter resulting from the fires. Heat was also in abundance, as extremely high temperatures were present on 9/11 and afterward at Ground Zero. These temperatures were at least 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than first reported by government scientists, and were far higher than temperatures seen in a normal structure fire.
The molten metal and vaporized silicates that have been reported in the WTC dust can only be explained by the presence of an exothermic reaction like the thermite reaction. Large quantities of carbon nanotubes might have been formed at Ground Zero due to the high temperature environments created by the thermite reaction and the airborne metal catalysts that were also present.
A second possible explanation for the carbon nanotubes in the lung tissue of the first responders is that the carbon nanotubes were components of actual energetic materials that were used in the destruction of the buildings. Carbon nanotubes have been used as energetic modifiers, to improve stabilization of explosives, and to enhance ignition properties.
Some of the illnesses suffered by the WTC first responders might be explained by the existing evidence of energetic materials, like thermite, at Ground Zero. For example aluminum, aluminum oxide and aluminum silicates are known causal factors for some of the common illnesses seen, such as sarcoidosis, pulmonary fibrosis, and the as-yet-unexplained immune system diseases. Furthermore, the rare cancers found in some first responders could be the result of environmental factors such as the unusually high levels of benzene and derivatives of 1,3-DPP which suggest the presence of energetic materials like thermite and nanothermite.
Analysis of the lung tissue of first responders has also indicated that energetic materials might be involved. The unusual platy configurations of aluminum silicates found in those lung tissue samples seem similar to the platy configurations of aluminum and silicon in the nanothermite that has been discovered in WTC dust samples.
The finding of carbon nanotubes in the lungs of first responders suggests two possible explanations. The nanotubes might have been formed in the unusual environment at Ground Zero, where extremely high temperatures and the presence of airborne metallic species gives yet more evidence for the presence of thermitic materials. Alternatively, the nanotubes might have been components of energetic materials. In either case, the presence of carbon nanotubes in the lungs of WTC first responders suggests the use of energetic materials and should be studied in more depth.
These facts and research findings warrant further study of the correlation between environmental testing results, first responder health study results, and the use of energetic materials at the WTC.
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