Eighteen years after 9/11, a medical study of nearly 10,000 city Firefighters has linked their exposure to World Trade Center dust with a significantly increased long-term risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Conducted by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore Health System and the Fire Department, it found that those who arrived earliest on the scene—when the air-borne dust was thickest—have a 44-percent increased risk of CVD compared to those who arrived later in the day. The study was published online in JAMA Open Network.

‘Significant Increase’

“The increase in risk was significant, even taking into account known CVD risk factors such as age, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking,” said study leader Dr. David J. Prezant, a professor of medicine at Einstein, a pulmonary-disease specialist at Montefiore, and Chief Medical Officer of the FDNY.

That link, as well as previous studies flagging an increased risk for autoimmune rheumatologic diseases and a blood-cancer precursor that can lead to the cancer multiple myeloma, ”highlights the need to add these health conditions to the list of WTC-related diseases that are coverable under the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act,” Dr. Prezant added.

Previous studies have documented that WTC exposure is connected to immediate and long-term risk of adverse health effects, including respiratory problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and several types of cancer.

The latest study “involved 9,796 firefighters who worked at the WTC site. Most were never smokers (74%) and non-Hispanic white (94%), with an average age of 40 on September 11, 2001,” according to a press release. “All were men, since there were too few female firefighters at the WTC site to obtain meaningful data.”

Split in 4 Groups

The researchers split firefighters into four different cohorts: those who first arrived at the WTC site during the morning of 9/11—believed to have had the highest dust exposure; those who arrived that afternoon; those who first arrived on September 12, and those who first arrived between days 3 and 14.

Researchers found that firefighters who arrived during and immediately after the WTC collapse had a 44-percent higher risk of experiencing primary and secondary CVD than those who arrived the following day.

And those who worked at the WTC site for six months or more were 30 percent more likely to have experienced a primary or secondary CVD event than those who spent less time at the site.

“An important message is that new chest pain in this group should not automatically be attributed to well-known WTC-related illnesses, such as acid reflux or obstructive airway disease. It might very well be associated with CVD,” said Dr. Prezant in a statement.

The research collaboration was supported through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

On 9/11, 343 members of the FDNY were killed. In 18 years since, more than 200 firefighters of all ranks have died from WTC-linked occupational exposures.

12,000 Cancer Cases

According to the WTC Health Program, there have been almost 12,000 related cancers among the first-responder community and those who lived, worked or attended school south of Houston St. from Sept. 11, 2001 through the cleanup that was officially completed at the end of May 2002.

Dr. Jacqueline Moline, director of the Northwell Health Queens World Trade Center Program, testified before Congress that the WTC Health Program had seen an exponential increase in a myriad of cancers and that “soon the day will come when there are more people that died of WTC-related diseases after 9/11 than perished that horrible day [2,973].”

She estimated that as many as 20,000 more cancer cases could develop as a consequence of exposures to the contaminants that were released by the collapse of the towers and the fires that burned for months at the site.

The Federally funded World Trade Center Health Program has been providing health care and monitoring for both first-responders and civilian survivors of the attack and the clean-up that followed.

More than 76,000 of the estimated 90,000 first-responders who spent time at the WTC site are enrolled in the program that automatically provides them free, annual screening.

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