Dai Ho Chun Guest Lecture – Brett Walker, Montana State University – Bozeman

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 | 6p | Art Auditorium

An Environmental History of Terrorism:
9/11, World Trade Center Dust, and the Global Nature of New York’s Toxic Bodies

On September 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers, they released a 1000-ton toxic bomb that enveloped Lower Manhattan. Nobody knows the amount of toxins, such as asbestos, that World Trade Center workers, first responders, and Lower Manhattan residence were exposed to from the initial dust plume, but with an alarming spike in cancer deaths among people involved in the 9.11 emergency, the exposure amount was surely high.

Among those toxins released was Libby Montana’s asbestos, which, in the form of Grace’s Zonolite “Mono-kote” product, had coated some of the steel skeleton of the iconic structures. Libby’s asbestos was only one of hundreds of potentially dangerous substances brought to New York to built the Twin Towers, pulverized during 9/11, and introduced to local people. Importantly, that an alphabet soup of dangerous substances mined and extracted around the world now reside in the bodies of New Yorkers, and sickens them, make them artifacts of modern globalization, symbolized by the World Trade Center and the violent dismantling of it. As Mr. Michael Valentine, who worked in the debris for months and now has lymphatic tumors in his chest, succinctly put it, “We all have terminal illnesses, we are all going to die.” Mr. Valentine is a casualty of the ecologies of terrorism.

The toxic dust plume from the World Trade Center served as a warning sign of the dangers that occur when the infrastructure of the modern built environment, built as it is from asbestos and other hazardous materials extracted globally, comes tumbling down. As New Yorkers breathed in deeply the world trade center dust, while frantically trying to rescue their own, New York’s local urban ecology, the one that flowed through local bodies, surrendered to the world ecologies tapped to build the Twin Towers, and the global politics and religion that precipitated their cruel destruction.


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