Fifteen years after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, researchers are still learning the impact of the attacks on people’s health.
When the twin towers fell, a cloud of toxic dust and particles enveloped the area, coating buildings surrounding neighborhood and coated everyone and everything in its path. According to a new study, those toxic clouds likely caused negative birth outcomes for women in Lower Manhattan, National Geographic reports.
The study adds to the research showing that prenatal exposure to air pollution can have adverse health effects on newborns, and those effects can continue to affect the child over the course of a lifetime. According to the March of Dimes, exposure to air pollution during pregnancy can increase the risk of premature birth and low birth weight and may affect the child’s breathing and learning skills later in childhood.
The attorneys at Parker Waichman have been involved with 9/11 health issues since the terrorist attacks occurred and have worked to secure health care and compensation for first responders, rescue and recover workers, and area residents and survivors.
Birth Outcomes for Pregnant Women Exposed to 9/11 Toxic Dust
Researchers Hannes Schwandt and Janet Currie looked at New York City birth records from 1994 to 2004. Of the 1.2 million births during that period, Schwandt and Currie isolated data from women who lived in Lower Manhattan neighborhoods and had the greatest exposure to the 9/11 dust cloud. The team further refined their search for women who had previously had babies, to better determine if the low birth weights were an anomaly. The study was published in fall 2016 in the Journal of Human Resources.
The researchers found that women who were in their first trimester of pregnancy during the 9/11 attacks had more than double the probability of premature delivery. There was also an increase in the number of babies with low birth weights. Low birth weight can contribute to health problems such as higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, and elevated blood pressure. Schwandt, an economist at the University of Zurich, says, “pregnancy conditions really matter for later economic outcomes and for long-term human development and economic success.” Low birth-weight babies tend to earn less money throughout their lives.
The researchers though that post-traumatic stress disorder might be a contributing factor in poor birth outcomes. PTSD has been linked to low birth weight. But after the researchers compared women’s stress levels across the city, they were able to rule out PTSD as a confounding factor for the births in their study. They say the dust cloud was the primary culprit.
These findings are striking because many of the affected women lived in well-to-do neighborhoods where women typically have better birth outcomes. In the United States, pollution and low birth weight tend to occur in poorer communities. Schwandt said, “the magnitude of the effect is similar to the difference between an advantaged and a disadvantaged mother.” The advantaged mother exposed to the 9/11 dust cloud “had a similar birth outcome as a disadvantaged mother who has not been exposed.”
Previous studies looking at 9/11 babies had shown little evidence of such effects. But those studies either pulled data from specific hospitals or from all over the city—including poorer and more polluted areas such as the South Bronx, Schwandt explains. The high rates of prematurity in some parts of New York City changed the data sets. Taken together, these numbers are comparable to what would be seen in less advantaged nations.
Air Pollution Effects Worldwide
The new study findings have implications for birth outcomes for pregnant women in cities like New Delhi, Mexico City, and Beijing that have serious air pollution problems. Most studies that have looked at air pollution’s effects on birth outcomes have examined outcomes over longer periods of time. But because the terrorist attacks happened in a contained time and space, the researchers could better understand the impact of pollution on birth outcomes. The terrorist attacks created the closest thing to a controlled environment the researchers could expect to find. The 9/11 toxic dust cloud simplified the variables and magnified the change, according to National Geographic.
A comparable study of air pollution and pregnancy was undertaken in Beijing when the city tried to clean its polluted air before the 2008 Olympics. Tracey Woodruff of the University of California, San Francisco, was co-author the Beijing study. In Beijing, Woodruff says, “the air pollution levels went down during the Olympics and then came back up, because they relaxed all the controls they had in place.” In the Beijing study, babies gestating during the period of cleaner air, were about 23 grams heavier than babies born during the same time period a year earlier, when the air pollution was greater.
A 2016 study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that even small amounts of air pollution raise the risk of premature births and lifelong neurological and respiratory disorders in children.
Pollution affects the placenta, the organ that connects the mother to the fetus and provides blood, oxygen, and nutrition. The greater the mother’s exposure to air pollution, the more likely the pregnant woman is to suffer from a condition called intrauterine inflammation, which can increase the risk of a number of health problems for the child from the fetal stage well into childhood.
The researchers reported their findings online April 27 in Environmental Health Perspectives. This study adds to the growing evidence that the air a pregnant woman breathes can have long-term health consequences for her child. The Johns Hopkins researchers are concerned that current Environmental Protection Agency air pollution standards may not be strict enough to protect developing fetuses.
Legal Help for Children Harmed by Prenatal Exposure to 9/11 Toxic Dust
If you were pregnant at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and your child was premature, low birth weight, or has health problems that could be linked to 9/11 toxins, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP for a free, no obligation case evaluation. Fill out the online contact form to have an attorney contact you, or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529.