Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, scientists, medical doctors, public health professionals, clinicians and epidemiologists began to study and evaluate the health consequences and damage suffered by first responders, volunteers, residents, area workers, business owners, students, and everyone else who became exposed to the toxic pollutants and the fine particulates. Among the most recent and comprehensive studies are several reported last year by the WTC Health Registry.
The findings from the World Trade Center Health Registry, published in a special 9/11 issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2016, highlight longer-term physical and mental health impacts from exposure to 9/11 toxins. Results from the various studies, include the following:
Cancer Ten Years after 9/11
Since its inception, cancer surveillance has been a priority for the World Trade Center Health Registry. The Registry first examined cancer incidence from 2003 to 2008. A follow up study looked at the period from 2007 to 2011. The article “Ten-year cancer incidence in rescue/recovery workers and civilians exposed to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center” found that for all cancer sites combined from 2007-2011, there were 11 percent more cancer cases than expected among rescue/recovery workers, and 8 percent more among civilian survivors compared with the New York State general population. Prostate and thyroid cancer remained elevated among rescue/recovery workers. There were also a small, but higher than expected, incidence of skin melanoma in rescue/recovery workers and non-responder civilian survivors. Among civilian survivors, the study found elevated incidence of female breast cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The findings also provide limited evidence for a causal link between 9/11 exposure and cancer. These findings need to be substantiated by additional follow up studies over time.
Asthma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Impact on Gastroesophageal Reflux Symptoms (GERS)
Increased rates of GERS, asthma and PTSD have been frequently reported in those exposed to 9/11 toxins. The study “Effect of asthma and PTSD on persistence and onset of gastroesophageal reflux symptoms among adults exposed to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks” examined the interrelationships among these three conditions.
The study found that many (46.5%) participants with GERS developed shortly after 9/11 had persistent GERS almost 10 years later. Asthma and PTSD were each independently associated with both the persistence of GERS that was present shortly after 9/11, as well as development of GERS in people without early post-9/11 GERS. Enrollees who developed asthma soon after 9/11 compared to those who didn’t were 20% more likely to have persistent GERS and 50% more likely to develop GERS 10 years after 9/11. Enrollees with PTSD symptoms 2 to 3 years after 9/11 were 30% more likely than those without to have persistent GERS and 60% more likely to develop GERS 10 years after 9/11. These findings suggest that integrated physical and mental care could lessen the longer-term health effects of 9/11.
Chronic Conditions and Early Retirement or Job Loss
The research looked at the association between 9/11-related chronic health conditions, and early retirement and job loss. The study found that disasters like the 9/11 terrorist attacks have a large ripple effect on an individual’s overall well-being, including their health, employment, and earnings.
Findings indicate that non-uniformed rescue/recovery workers with 9/11-related chronic health conditions were more likely to experience early retirement or job loss.
Asthma among Staten Island Fresh Kills Landfill and Barge Workers
The study “Asthma among Staten Island Fresh Kills Landfill and Barge Workers Following the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center Terrorist Attacks” is a look at the health of an understudied group. Asthma newly diagnosed between Sept. 2001 and Dec. 2004 was reported by 100 of the 1,836 (5.4%) enrollees included in this analysis. Workers with increased risk of new-onset asthma included those who had jobs involving sifting, digging, welding, and steel cutting, high landfill/barge exposure, were police and sanitation workers, or had probable PTSD. Post-9/11 asthma cumulative incidence among Staten Island landfill/barge workers was similar to that of other WTC disaster rescue and recovery workers.
These studies are crucial for the 9/11 community. Fortunately, numerous public officials continue to show support for ongoing research.
“We are committed to learning as much as we can about the health effects of the World Trade Center disaster,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Fifteen years later, the Department’s World Trade Center Health Registry is tracking the health of 71,000 people directly exposed to the attacks and referring them to care through the federal WTC Health Program. The Registry plays a critical role in understanding how disasters of this scope and nature affect the health and well-being of first responders, area workers and residents over time.”
“The findings contained in these very important World Trade Center Health Registry reports clarify what many of us have known for a long period of time: that dedicated DSNY workers involved in the massive WTC recovery operations at the attack site and at our barge and Fresh Kills sites were exposed to incredible health risks and challenges,” said Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia. “These workers carried out their essential jobs in a most professional manner under extremely adverse conditions and it is no surprise that some are now experiencing medical or psychological issues,” she added. “They all deserve our profound thanks and we appreciate that the Registry is focusing on their well-being.”
“As one of the authors of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, I have fought to make sure that the countless responders and survivors who have suffered from 9/11 related illnesses are guaranteed the care they need,” said Congressman Jerry Nadler. “Unfortunately, for the last fifteen years, all signs have told us that the health effects of 9/11 exposures are ongoing and grave. The research findings announced today continue to bear this out. The World Trade Center Health Registry and the research it has enabled has helped make sure that the medical experts can do their jobs and that Congress can continue to support our 9/11 victims and heroes.”
“Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks we continue seeing how New Yorkers’ health has been affected. That’s why it was so critical Congress pass funding for the Zadroga Health Act, which cares for first responders and others suffering from 9/11-related ailments. These studies makes clear how extensive these problems are and underscores that we must continue caring for those who were harmed,” said Congresswoman Nydia M. Velásquez.
“An important component of providing adequate care, and creating appropriate policies and resources for 9/11 heroes and our communities is understanding long-term health impacts,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron. “The WTC Health Registry is an important part of ensuring New York can fulfill its obligation to provide health resources to first responders and our community whose health could be at risk. Thank you to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.”
“With the important findings provided by the World Trade Center Health Registry, the health and well-being of our great city remains our highest priority,” said Assembly Member Alice Cancel. “I would like to commend the WTC Health Registry for their ongoing effort to help those of my Assembly District and the many more who were affected by the disaster of the World Trade Center 15 years ago. Their ongoing work continues to save lives.”
“For a long time, we have believed that the physical and mental health impacts of 9/11 are long lasting but continued research is essential to determine the accuracy of that belief. It is vital to understanding these impacts more thoroughly so we can best support residents and recovery workers. I appreciate the efforts of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the leadership of Commissioner Bassett for continuing to track and study these impacts,” said Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick.
“As we approach the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the new findings published by the Health Department’s World Trade Center Health Registry reminds us that the impact of that horrific day did not end on September 12th, 2001. The continued analysis and research done by the New York City Health Department should be applauded as we continue to fight for the resources necessary to fully treat and heal our first responders,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.
“The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, shook our city and our nation to its core, and we continue to feel the impact today. As our city continues to feel the aftermath of 9/11, it is important that we continue to chronicle and study the long-term health effects of this tragedy. These findings illustrate the deep and lasting wounds 9/11 caused by the attacks and their aftermath, and are an important resource for government and health officials to guide policy and treatment options for those who continue to suffer from the fallout. I thank the Health Department for their continued commitment to those affected by the horrible events of 15 years ago,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Díaz Jr.
“This information is crucial as we continue to seek the best possible care for people exposed to the World Trade Center attack,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health. “As this research demonstrates, the health conditions that resulted from the attack are serious and wide-ranging. To successfully treat our fellow New Yorkers, we need to be armed with comprehensive, actionable data. That’s exactly what the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is releasing, and I thank Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett and her outstanding staff for this critical, life-saving work.”
“Fifteen years after the World Trade Center disaster, residents, workers and responders are still suffering from the negative physical and mental effects of one of the most devastating attacks in our nation’s history,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin. “Because of the huge scale of this tragedy, it is incredibly important that we continue to monitor the long-term impacts so that we are in a better position to provide targeted services to those in need. I thank Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bassett for their commitment to the WTC Health Registry and to the health and well-being of residents of all ages, as well as the people who answered the call for help when our City needed it most.”
“I commend the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for spearheading these research studies to update all of us concerned about the mental and physical health of rescue and recovery workers, as well as civilians affected by the tragic 9/11 attack,” said New York City Council Member Andrew Cohen. “Among other important findings, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that occurred due to building evacuation issues have been extensively documented, which will be helpful to us as we work to improve our disaster response approaches.”
For more information on the studies, see the WTC Health Registry 2016 Annual Report.
Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) claimants should note that the World Trade Center Health Registry is not the same as the World Trade Center Health Program. They are completely different and unrelated programs.
If you have questions about making a VCF claim, call Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo PC at (800) 962-9954 or via our contact page.
For information on additional medical studies, see our Selected Bibliography.