Open Access Research article

9/11-Related Experiences and Tasks of Landfill and Barge Workers: Qualitative Analysis from the World Trade Center Health Registry

Christine C Ekenga12, Katherine E Scheu13, James E Cone1, Steven D Stellman14 and Mark R Farfel1*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Epidemiology, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York, New York, USA

2 Division of Epidemiology, Department of Environmental Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York, USA

3 Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University at Albany, Albany, New York USA

4 Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:321  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-321

Published: 16 May 2011



Few studies have documented the experiences of individuals who participated in the recovery and cleanup efforts at the World Trade Center Recovery Operation at Fresh Kills Landfill, on debris loading piers, and on transport barges after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack.


Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of workers and volunteers from the World Trade Center Health Registry. Qualitative methods were used to analyze the narratives.


Twenty workers and volunteers were interviewed. They described the transport of debris to the Landfill via barges, the tasks and responsibilities associated with their post-9/11 work at the Landfill, and their reflections on their post-9/11 experiences. Tasks included sorting through debris, recovering human remains, searching for evidence from the terrorist attacks, and providing food and counseling services. Exposures mentioned included dust, fumes, and odors. Eight years after the World Trade Center disaster, workers expressed frustration about poor risk communication during recovery and cleanup work. Though proud of their contributions in the months after 9/11, some participants were concerned about long-term health outcomes.


This qualitative study provided unique insight into the experiences, exposures, and concerns of understudied groups of 9/11 recovery and cleanup workers. The findings are being used to inform the development of subsequent World Trade Center Health Registry exposure and health assessments.