The New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project

Righting the horrors of 9/11 and restoring quality of life

by Bruce Boyers

There is not a person who was alive on September 11, 2001, who does not remember exactly where they were when they heard of the horrific terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center towers. And in the days, weeks and months that followed, we watched with awe as tens of thousands of firemen, policemen, National Guardsmen and volunteers charged into the rubble with no considerations for their own lives to search for survivors and begin the massive cleanup that was to last for the next nine months.

On July 1, 2002, an announcement came that workers had finally finished cleaning up the estimated 1.8 million tons of debris, eight months ahead of schedule. An interfaith memorial service was held at the site at which candles were lit and nine white doves were released, which soared out of sight after circling where the World Trade Center had once stood. A few days later, another ceremony was held for thousands of silently watching public, during which the last beam was ceremonially removed and an empty American-flag-draped stretcher was carried from the site, representing the missing who had never been found.

For the world in general, there was a kind of closure. The rescue and cleanup workers had finally, most assumed, returned to their day-to-day lives. But for  many of those workers, a new horror was just beginning—one unseen by the rest of the world.

The Unseen Terror

From 9/11 onward, thousands of cases of skin rashes, serious digestive issues, breathing disorders, mental disorders, heart problems and many others were reported by WTC rescue and cleanup workers to hospitals and medical professionals throughout the general New York area.

Firefighter Joe Higgins

One example is firefighter Joe Higgins. He served in the FDNY as a firefighter for 18 years, and in his career fought more than 1,000 inner-city fires. He also served as the drill instructor for over 6 years and trained upward of 4,200 firefighters, who are currently on the job. Firefighting was a family affair for Joe; together his father, three of his brothers and he have given more than 100 years to the fire department, and his brother Tim was lost in the collapse of the WTC North Tower.

Joe wasn’t on the duty chart on 9/11, but like most off-duty firefighters he reported on that day. “No one was really thinking about toxic exposure those first few days,” he says. “We were thinking about finding people who were still alive.”

For months, Joe worked on rescue and recovery operations, running on pure adrena-line. He watched others become ill and was wondering what was happening to them.

In April of 2002, after fighting a relatively small fire, Joe began to have a very difficult time breathing. The breathing problems escalated into an asthma attack, and at the end of May he was hospitalized for seven days during which he suffered multiple asthma attacks. “Not being able breathe frightened my children and I was fearful for my life,” Joe says. “I recovered, but I was told my firefighting days were over, and I ended up on six meds that I was told I would need for the rest of my life.”

Then Joe began having nightmares and couldn’t sleep more than two hours a night—and even that was in intervals of 20–30 minutes. By July, the inability to sleep was taking its toll; he would awake in a sweat, caught in vivid dreams of the event. With no other help in sight, Joe resigned himself to spending the rest of his life in this torment.

Captain Sean Donahue

Another example was Captain Sean Donahue, a pilot and commander in an aviation detachment of the US Army. On September 11, Captain Donahue had been working near the World Trade Center. When the attacks occurred he went to the WTC, managing to escape just as the towers collapsed. Later in the day, he returned with a group of military volunteers and remained straight through to the evening of September 12, the entire time engulfed in deep smoke and airborne soot. But like the rest of the volunteers, he ignored it and bravely continued searching for survivors. He remained in the Manhattan area from September 15 until March 2002, and was continuously exposed to smoke, dust and airborne particles.

On September 16, Donahue was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital because he couldn’t breathe. Simultaneously, he developed a variety of chronic physical conditions including shortness of breath, skin rashes, severe stomach and chest pain, chronic     nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Donahue also developed serious mental problems. “In February 2002, I experienced a complete flashback of the events of September 11 while watching the Super Bowl,” Donahue said. “I was reliving the events as if they had just happened again. I was badly shaken by this, and was referred to an Army chaplain and a psychiatrist. The help that I received from them was appreciated, but it did not cause a change in my condition.”

The problems only worsened. Donahue was unable to concentrate; he would arrive at a job site and then “space out,” unable to orient himself to the job. He was forced to discontinue his work as a computer consultant. “My outlook on life was constantly bad,” he said. “I was unable to get up in the morning. I was relying on ten medications, four inhalers and six different pills just to get me through the day.”
Donahue’s condition continued to deteriorate and in December 2003 the Army revoked his flight status. He finally reached the point where the only remaining medical option was for him to begin taking full- body steroids. “As bad as I felt, I did not want this to happen,” he said. “I knew that if it did, I would be permanently disabled.”

As time went on, such cases mounted. A Port Authority Police lieutenant present at the collapse of the WTC and who continued to work twelve-hour days for six days a week over the following nine months experienced sinus infections, gastroenteritis, rashes and serious physical weakness. A firefighter who worked three or four months following the collapse ended up with asthma attacks and two to three hours’ sleep a night with constant nightmares. A rescue worker who spent significant time on the site developed respiratory problems, lack of energy, loss of concentration, short-term memory loss and mood swings. The medical community did the best they could with what they had, addressing these illnesses with antibiotics, inhalers, steroids and any other treatments recommended by their training. Unfortunately these treatments were far from cures; they only gave slight relief and patients were told they would probably have to remain on these treatments for life.

The Magnitude of the Problem

Have these illnesses dissipated in the six years since 9/11? Regrettably, they have only become worse. Only recently, a 40-year-old man turned up at the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project—a non-profit group providing rehabilitative services to rescue workers—carrying with him a bag containing 21 different medications that he’d been taking for two years. These included steroid inhalers, painkillers, acid reflux medication and much more. The man had been employed as a doorman but, driven by duty, had reported to the WTC site on 9/11 as a volunteer. After 9/11 he became severely ill with asthma, reactive airway disease, chronic acid reflux, fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and severe anger problems. He also gained 100 pounds

The potential problem is enormous. There were 40,000+ rescue workers, cleanup workers and volunteers at the WTC site, all exposed to the same dangers as the cases detailed above. Even more significantly, there were 1.2 million people living and working in lower Manhattan who were exposed to these environmental dangers both during the crisis and in the subsequent months of the cleanup. Winds also carried these toxins into Brooklyn, parts of Queens, and the New Jersey municipalities of Hoboken, Weehawken and Jersey City—raising the potential exposure to 2 to 4 million people.

The Cause

The culprit behind these illnesses was hundreds of chemical compounds—which would normally never become airborne—released into the atmosphere at the WTC site. It began with a mammoth dust storm of pulverized concrete, steel, asbestos, office equipment, carpeting and other matter. All of these materials literally evaporated into the air.

“After the collapse, you couldn’t find anything,” said Jim Woodworth, president of the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project. “There were no phones, no garbage cans, no doorknobs, no doors, no light switches, no pictures, nothing. They had all literally turned into a gas or, if they were on fire, they turned to smoke.” Much of this material attached to silica dust because silica is highly absorbent of moisture and gases, and was inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Silica is the prime element in glass and concrete, and given the amount of such in the WTC towers this comes as no surprise.

The toxic particles were among the smallest ever seen—so small that normal body defenses employed by site personnel were useless. Many of the personnel, having rushed to the site in an attempt to save lives, were not protected at all or had minimal, inadequate protection. The toxins included heavy metals such as aluminum, lead, mercury, manganese and cadmium. They also included 33,000 to 44,000 gallons of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a group of synthetic chemicals once widely used in electrical equipment, hydraulic systems, heat transfer systems and other industrial products. They are highly toxic and potent carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) actually banned from use 30 years ago.

This titanic release of poisons into the atmosphere constitutes the worst environmental disaster in US history.


Residues of many of the most dangerous chemicals released at the WTC site accumulate in fat tissue. By storing these chemicals in fat, the body limits their power to harm. Although much research has been devoted to establishing acceptable levels for these residues, none of these substances truly belong in the body. A growing quantity of research and clinical experience has identified a range of symptoms that are associated with low-level chemical exposures, including many of the conditions experienced by rescue workers.

For nearly three decades, physicians and rehabilitation specialists have utilized a natural detoxification procedure developed by L. Ron Hubbard to reduce or resolve these symptoms. The program utilizes a precise regimen that consists of exercise, sauna bathing and vitamin, mineral and oil supplements to help eliminate stored toxins and to reduce their health effects. An ongoing series of pilot projects and studies in the US, Europe and Russia, as well as three international conferences, have yielded considerable evidence of its safety and efficacy.

Responding to a Cry for Help

Within weeks of the attacks, firefighters and union representatives who were familiar with this work began to contact detoxification specialists about the feasibility of making the Hubbard program available to rescue workers. Among the groups they contacted was the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education (FASE), a non-profit organization that has organized or facilitated studies of the program for more than two decades.

In January of 2002, foundation associates traveled to New York for the first of a series of meetings with city officials, rescue workers and union officials to gain a firsthand view of the situation. In response to repeated requests for a detoxification clinic in Manhattan, the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project was established. Co-founder Tom Cruise, whose involvement in relief efforts began immediately after the attacks, helped to guide the planning for such a center and the related capital campaign—donations were needed as the program would be offered to rescue and cleanup workers free of charge.

“We went to the private sector to make sure the rescue workers could have access to the program immediately,” said Woodworth. “We felt that their options should include this natural, non-invasive program that had long been shown to resolve the kinds of symptoms that were plaguing them.”

The project opened its doors to rescue workers in September 2002.

The Program and Its Success

Almost immediately the program began seeing incredible success. Rescue and cleanup personnel slept through the night for the first time since 9/11, and found they could breathe comfortably without inhalers or other medication.

Just as firefighter Joe Higgins had resigned himself to spending a life of inhaler-assisted breathing, constant nightmares and little sleep, he found out about the project. On the detoxification program he was put on a regimen of vitamins, minerals and amino acids to help him get to sleep. By the third day he was sleeping seven to eight hours a night for the first time since 9/11 and was safely off all his inhalers.

“As the toxins were being removed I started to think more clearly and not feel as depressed or anxiety ridden,” Higgins says. “By the time I was done, I felt like I had been shot out of a cannon. I felt fantastic.

“It’s now been over two years since I completed,” Higgins concludes. “I continue to feel great. I have also had the opportunity to see many more members of FDNY complete detoxification and their gains have been as dramatic as mine.”

Captain Sean Donahue, who had suffered from a staggering number of physical and mental problems and who had been told his only option was permanently disabling full-body steroids, and when admitted for the program could not walk up a flight of stairs, can today run three miles. His chronic cough is gone and he no longer needs any medication. He has a new, stress-free outlook on life. And in testament to the totality of his recovery, he has now fully regained his flight status.

“I was without hope before I began detoxification,” Donahue says. “This program was everything that I was told it would be. I was facing a lifetime of suffering. That is behind me now.”

How about the 9/11 volunteer who recently checked into the program? Following the detoxification program guidelines under medical supervision, he was able to quit every one of his 21 medications within two days. Still on the program, he has regained the ability to run for 30 minutes straight.

There are many other such dramatic results. One 31-year-old athletic fireman who responded on the day of the disaster, who had deteriorated to the point where he couldn’t even climb a flight of stairs without shortness of breath, made a complete recovery both mentally and physically. Another firefighter who had been hospitalized with asthma and could only breathe with the use of multiple steroid inhalers has also fully recovered, is off all inhalers, back to a normal night’s sleep, and can now run for 25 minutes straight. Another rescue worker who was so sick he thought he’d be forced to an early retirement reports that he now feels as healthy both mentally and physically as he did in his college days. There are hundreds of such reports.

“The truth of the matter is that the traditional medical offerings—steroidal inhalers, antidepressants, antianxiety medications, sleeping pills, painkillers—are not going to address the toxic body burden of these chemicals that these men and women were exposed to,” Woodworth said. “You have to remove the cause, which in this case happens to be toxic heavy metals and chemicals that are causing the symptoms. If you have a body that’s completely toxic from chemical exposure, typically adding more chemicals in the form of drugs isn’t going to help that person. It’s only going to hurt them.”

A total of 843 people have now completed the program and hundreds more are requesting the service.

Support from the Medical Sector

Medical authorities have lauded the project and the Hubbard Detoxification Program. “The Hubbard Program is the only method that exists that offers the possibility of reducing the body burdens of toxics that can cause disease,” says James Dahlgren, MD, clinical faculty at the UCLA School of Medicine. “Let me repeat that: it is the only method that has shown promise in this regard.”

Dr. Gerald Ente, chief surgeon for the New York State Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), toured the Manhattan facility and interviewed program participants. He praised the program for its service to police officers and its aim to restore health rather than to medicate symptoms. “I am throwing in all my weight for the NYSFOP to support this endeavor,” he said. “They are helping our people.”

The results in nearly 500 cases were reported in The Townsend Letter, a highly regarded forum for researchers and physicians involved in alternative medicine. “The improvements attained in almost 500 cases argue for broader implementation of the program, supported by additional evaluation and research efforts.

“That a large percentage of those affected by 9/11 exposures are not responding to existing treatments after more than four years; that the opportunity to improve the job fitness of first responders in one of the nation’s most important cities exists; and that the possibility that syndromes being treated as ‘post traumatic stress’ are in fact the result of toxin-induced damage—all this argues strongly for and adds urgency to this initiative,” the report concludes.

Union Support

The program has also received considerable support from local police and firefighter unions.

“It is not too much to ask that the brave men and women who willingly gave their best for the benefit of so many be able to choose the medical care that promises a return to the full and productive life they enjoyed before that day,” said Charles J. Caputo, president of the New York State Fraternal Order of Police. “We believe that the already proven success of the treatment offered by the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project is making that dream come true and unequivocally endorse it.”

“Clearly, we need to do everything we can to help these individuals, to restore their quality of life and to prevent long-term impacts from toxic exposures,” said Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. “The work that you are doing in this regard is unique in the city, and is very welcome.”

Until the hidden terror of 9/11—the lethal toxic poisoning of our heroes that were right on the front lines—is fully, publicly and accurately addressed, the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project stands ready, willing and able to give life back to those who gave so much to us in our time of crisis.

The New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project continues to service an escalating number of 9/11 rescue and cleanup workers, and is supported only by donations. Natural Vitality is proud to be a supporter of the project. To find out more and to make a donation, please visit the project’s website at www.nydetox.org.