Health effects of 9/11 continue for those exposed to toxic debris at crash sites
Health care professionals and researchers are continuing their efforts to assist those exposed to toxic debris in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Many first responders, other rescue personnel, clean-up workers and people who lived and worked in close proximity to the World Trade Center site in New York City are part of a WTC Health Registry, and are participating in ongoing studies and treatment programs to assess their health and treat illnesses related to the tragedy.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also participates in 9/11-related health and safety research initiatives that include those affected at Ground Zero as well as responders, survivors and workers at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, Penn. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) leads the federal government’s efforts to track the health effects of 9/11.
Studies indicate health problems – both physical and mental health – vary widely among those exposed to the World Trade Center disaster and site. According to a report from Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, post-traumatic stress symptoms are the most common health effect of 9/11.
WTC Health Registry statistics indicate almost one in five (19 percent) of adults enrolled in the study reported post-traumatic stress symptoms five to six years after 9/11. This is about four times greater than the rate typically found in the general population. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can manifest in both mental and physical problems, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and an increased risk for suicide.
The registry also reflects a high number of respiratory illness among those exposed to 9/11 toxins at the WTC site. The report notes that the intense dust cloud exposure increased everyone’s risk for developing asthma. Other problems include sinus problems and other lung problems.
Studies indicate steep declines in pulmonary function among those exposed to the WTC site. Estimates show four times as many firefighters and twice as many emergency medical service (EMS) workers had below-normal lung function for their age six to seven years after 9/11.
Additional problems noted among those exposed to the toxic debris of Ground Zero include heartburn, acid reflux or other gastroesophageal reflux symptoms, sarcoidosis (an inflammation that can affect any organ but usually affects the lungs), reduced fetal growth to women pregnant on 9/11, and increased cancer risk.
In early 2011, President Obama signed into law the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act. This legislation ensures those affected by 9/11 continue to receive monitoring and treatment services for 9/11-related health problems at least through 2015. Those eligible under either the Responder Program or the Survivor Program can receive services no matter where they live now in the U.S.
The World Trade Center Health Program (WTC Health Program) was established by the Zadroga Act to provide services for responders, workers, and volunteers who helped with rescue, recovery and cleanup at the World Trade Center and related sites in New York City. It also provides treatment for people who were affected by living or working in the area, or who were in school in the area around the WTC. Enrollment in the program for responders at the Pentagon and Shanksville, Penn., sites is expected to open later this year.
According to information provided by the New York City Health Department, the Zadroga Act was established primarily because private insurance doesn’t pay for work-related illness. As a result, “people currently being treated for 9/11-related health conditions who got sick because they worked at the WTC site do not have coverage.” However, worker’s compensation and insurance must be used before federal funds go to 9/11 health care.
The 9/11 Health and Compensation Act also will re-open the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, which allows those affected to file claims for economic losses due to physical harm or death caused by 9/11. This fund is available to victims affected by any of the terrorist crash sites.