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World Trade Center Rescue Workers, Others Still Facing Health Problems

Sep 11, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

As the country marks the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, new research indicates that World Trade Center rescue workers, as well as many others, are still dealing with serious health problems because of their exposure to ground zero.   According to the New York City Health Department study of the World Trade Center Health Registry, enrollees were still plagued with high rates of asthma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and serious psychological problems a late as three years after the attacks.

The World Trade Center Health Registry includes  71,437 rescue and recovery workers, lower Manhattan residents, area workers, commuters and passersby who were in the vicinity of Ground Zero during and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. More than half reported being in the dust cloud from the collapsing World Trade Center towers; 70 percent witnessed a traumatic sight, such as a plane hitting a tower; and 13 percent suffered an injury on 9/11.

According to the Health Department study, two to three years after 9/11, 3 percent of all adult enrollees reported they'd developed new asthma, 16 percent had PTSD, and 8 percent had severe psychological distress. The highest rate of asthma - 6 percent - was reported among people who worked on the debris pile.  AT least 35 percent of those who sustained injuries the day of the attack suffered from PTSD.  Overall, minorities, people with low incomes, and women experienced higher rates of mental and physical problems.

The study also found that 3 percent of Lower Manhattan adult residents and workers had developed asthma in the two to three years after 9/11 -- a rate believed to be twice the normal rate of asthma development in that time frame. The asthma rate was 3.7 percent among residents who didn't evacuate on 9/11, 3.6 percent among residents who returned to their homes within two days, and 2 percent among those who didn't return home until December 2001.

Approximately 3.5 percent of downtown workers who returned to their jobs within days of the disaster and 3.6 of passersby who were in Manhattan the morning of the attacks also developed asthma within 2-to-3 years following the tragedy.

The study also found PTSD rates of 20 percent or higher for both residents and workers who couldn't or wouldn't return to lower Manhattan for months after 9/11 and for people who didn't evacuate.

Unfortunately, the World Trade Center Health Registry provides only a small glimpse of the true health toll of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  According to the study authors, the 71,437 people enrolled  represent slightly more than 17 percent of those who are actually eligible for inclusion in the registry.  The study authors wrote that it is estimated that more than 400,000 people were exposed to the World Trade Center disaster.  Based on the registry study, that means as many as  35,000 to 70,000 developed PTSD, and 3,800 to 12,600 people developed asthma as a result of the World Trade Center attacks.


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