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Toxic World Trade Center Dust Implicate in Childhood Asthma

Nov 30, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

World Trade Center dust has caused the same types of health problems for children who were in the vicinity of the Twin Towers when they collapsed as it did for 9/11 rescue workers.  The New York City Health Department just released results of a survey confirming that children exposed to toxic World Trade Center dust are at much higher risk for respiratory problems; in some cases children are twice as likely as their peers to develop asthma.  The survey included 3,100 children enrolled in NY City's World Trade Center Health Registry and revealed that being caught in the World Trade Center dust cloud immediately following the September 11th attack was the single greatest risk factor for developing respiratory problems.  Half of all children enrolled in the registry developed new or aggravated breathing problems, but those who were caught in the cloud were diagnosed with asthma at double the rate of those who were not.

Created in 2003, the registry tracks physical and mental health problems experienced by downtown residents and workers and Ground Zero rescue and recovery teams; 71,000 people are enrolled in the registry, making it the nation's largest public health registry.  Despite this, officials acknowledge it captures only a fraction of those who were living or working in lower Manhattan at the time of the attacks or those involved in the recovery effort.

According to health officials, factors such as distance from the World Trade Center site at the time of the attacks and the time it took families to evacuate following the attack did not appear to affect a child's asthma rate.  It was being caught in the World Trade Center dust cloud that is the one variable making the difference according to Deputy Health Commissioner Lorna Thorpe.  The study is the first to measure the impact of the terrorist attacks on childhood asthma rates among children who were in lower Manhattan on September 11th.

Today's dust and debris appears to be from construction efforts and not the actual disaster; however, residents complain that although it is different, it is still very bad.

The recent data was gathered in surveys conducted in 2003-2004.  Health officials acknowledge that until they complete follow-up surveys-expected later next year-they cannot confirm higher asthma rates are at least partially the result of parents being more likely to enroll in the registry.  Meanwhile, compared to city figures, the survey's findings mirror the sharp rise in the rate of childhood asthma hospitalizations in lower Manhattan.  Although the number of children in lower Manhattan under age 14 who were hospitalized for asthma is small, lower Manhattan is the only area in the borough where hospitalization rates increased between 1997-2005.  Thorpe feels that results are cause for concern, but the follow-up survey will be better able to confirm if the connection is a coincidence or not.

While the impact on children's mental health appeared to be less severe, signs of trauma were more pronounced in those caught in the dust cloud, according to the study.  Three-percent of the children enrolled in the registry showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome, a lower figure than a study conducted last year by Columbia University-Barnard College that reported about 15-percent of lower Manhattan parents with preschoolers had sought counseling for their children as a result of the attacks.

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