Sep. 01 2017

Injury from NYC 9/11 Attacks Linked to Later Heart Problems

For each additional injury sustained in the collapse of the World Trade Center, a study found survivors were more likely to develop cardiovascular disease

Persons who experienced an injury during or immediately after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on the morning of September 11, 2001, had an increased risk of subsequent heart disease, with each added injury type further raising this risk. In addition, acute exposure to the dust cloud that morning was associated with elevated rates of asthma and other lung diseases. The findings, among the first to focus on acute injuries and other exposures from 9/11, are published online in the journal Injury Epidemiology.

The study, which captures 11 years of follow-up, represents one of the longest 9/11 study periods to date. “Most studies of World Trade Center survivors have been limited to physical and mental health problems that developed during the first few years following the attacks,” said Steven Stellman, PhD, a co-author on the paper, professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and former research director of the World Trade Center Registry. “Our study fills an important gap in our knowledge, strongly suggesting that the injury itself may be a precursor of later illness, although a possible mechanism has yet to be identified.”

Stellman and co-authors from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene based their analysis on data from 71,431 men, women, and children who were first interviewed in 2003-2004, and who also answered health questionnaires in 2006-2007 and 2011-2012 as part of the World Trade Center Registry. In the final analysis, researchers focused on 8,701 people, of whom 7,503 were area workers, 249 were rescue and recovery workers, 131 were local residents, and 818 were passersby. Partcipants were asked if they experienced injuries, including cuts, abrasions, or puncture wounds; sprains or strains; burns; broken bones or dislocations; and/or concussions or head injuries. The researchers excluded people age 65 and older who may have had existing chronic illnesses, as well as rescue and recovery workers who arrived later in the week, local residents who did not evacuate their homes immediately, and area workers who returned immediately afterwards since all of these people would have experienced chronic exposures.  

“Our findings indicate that continued monitoring of 9/11 exposed persons’ health by medical providers is warranted for the foreseeable future,” said Robert M. Brackbill, PhD, with the World Trade Center Registry, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The study was supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC (2U50/OH009739 and 5U50/OH009739); Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the National Center for Environmental Health, CDC (U50/ATU272750); and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.