Cities, 9/11, and Baby Teeth.

I love cities. I grew up in the D.C. Metropolitan Area suburbs, but I spent most of my literal-24-hour-day in Washington, D.C. After I graduated from college, I officially moved to one of my favorite cities for the first time – Philadelphia. I’m still in love with Philly, even though I’ve since moved to Boston. There’s just something about knowing my neighbors, being attached to my local businesses, commuting, and tangibly being connected to my community. If you have read my about page on the site, you would know that I actually study Urban Bioethics. In this case, urban isn’t an informal code word for hip-hop culture and people of color (might as well be blunt). It literally refers to cities and city living. Urban Bioethics is really about the health-related, scientific, ethical challenges faced by those who live in cities.

Urban health challenges can include substandard housing, poverty, and air pollution. In addition, major cities have also been targets of violent, terrorist attacks as well. Growing up in The District, I remember September 11, 2001 vividly. My brother and I were sitting in elementary school in the city when the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were hit. We watched the footage on the news and all of our teachers were terrified that they were going to hit Washington, D.C. directly. My mother later told us that she was speeding through the D.C. streets (which is not easy to do), with my youngest brother in tow, trying to get to us. For New Yorkers, I can only imagine how much more the tragedy stands out in their minds.

The trauma of 9/11 is very present in the lives of those who have lost love ones and peace of mind. However, a different form of this trauma is present in a less visible way.  A pilot study was done at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital evaluating the implications of air pollution from the 9/11 attacks. The lead scientist, Dr. Roberto Lucchini, has been studying the environmental effects of the September 11th attacks since they occured. Initially, he went door-to-door after the attacks – interviewing residents about their health. He found that many residents, emergency responders, and volunteers were suffering from respiratory issues after the attacks.  This current study is a continuation of his work. Lucchini and his team found a strong presence of lead and tin in the baby teeth of “9/11-era” children. This presence was very unusual – tin usually does not show in teeth until the age of 50 or 60. The effects of lead in the body have also been well documented (check out how lead is effecting citizens health here). Lucchini is hoping to expand the study, but finding the baby teeth that belonged these individuals are difficult.

So what does this mean for city-dwellers? Well first, I don’t think a fear of the environmental implications of terrorism is a reason to move out of cities. This is not just an American issue. London, Nairobi, Brussels, and other cites have all experienced terrorist attacks in recent years that have more than likely had social and environmental health implications. It is easy to justify abandoning a community because of fear. However, the whole point of terrorism is to create fear and unrest in communities. I don’t think we should feed into that mindset – nor does this occur statistically often enough to justify abandoning communities.

I also think that this is why urban bioethics is important. Health challenges are different in cities, rural environments, and suburban environments. Studies like these highlight these challenges. We have to engage our local governments and community leaders to create policies that accommodate for these issues. Thankfully, baby teeth fall out and you have a second set (not to minimize the implications of this study of course). However, chronic illnesses like asthma and the effects of pollution are longer-term and consistent issues. These are issues more unique to cities – you can’t evaluate urban health without examining them. Urbanization is increasing and these issues won’t be going away.

Make sure you all check out the studies below and I hope that you enjoyed this post!

See ya,
The Neighborhood Ethicist

(A note: The Neighborhood Ethicist will be going from weekly to bi-weekly. Although I will miss writing to you all every week, a girl’s got to finish school – and with flying or somewhat vibrant colors. So look for a new post every other Monday afternoon. Love you all and miss you already!)


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Baby Teeth Study – 

9/11 Linked to Cancer –


AM, Leah McGrath Goodman On 9/7/16 at 6:40. “9/11-Related Cancer and Other Diseases Are Surging.” Newsweek, September 7, 2016.
AM, Leah McGrath Goodman On 9/11/17 at 11:26. “Exclusive: Scientists Found Toxins in the Teeth of 9/11 Babies.” Newsweek, September 11, 2017.
“Newsweek – 9-11 Children: Scientists Find Toxins in Their Baby Teeth – Leah McGrath Goodman.” The Mount Sinai Hospital. Accessed October 2, 2017.
PM, Leah McGrath Goodman On 9/18/16 at 12:56. “Fallout from 9/11 Attacks on Par with Fukushima and Chernobyl, Researcher Says.” Newsweek, September 18, 2016.
“WHO | Urban Health.” WHO. Accessed October 2, 2017.

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