The findings of new research indicates firefighters who responded to the 9/11 attacks in New York City have a higher risk of suffering from heart disease, especially among those first on the scene.
New York firefighters who responded to Ground Zero early on September 11, 2001, and those who continued rescue work at the site the longest, face the highest risks of heart disease or experiencing a heart-related condition, such as a heart attack. The findings were published September 6, in the JAMA Network Open journal.
Prior studies linked exposures during 9/11 to conditions like obstructive airway disease, sinus problems, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, among others.
The new study was conducted by researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, following nearly 10,000 New York firefighters beginning September 11, 2001, through December 31, 2017. They examined health records prior to 9/11 and followed cardiovascular outcomes for 16 years.
The rates of heart disease were higher for firefighters who were first on the scene and had more exposure to the World Trade Center (WTC) “Ground Zero” site. The collapse of the World Trade Center towers created a large dust cloud with particulate matter and fires that burned for days.
Firefighters who arrived at the scene first have a 44% increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Similarly, firefighters who worked at the site for 6 months or more were 33% more likely to have heart disease or a cardiovascular event than those who worked at the site for less time.
The firefighters faced a heightened risk for heart attack, stroke, unstable angina, coronary artery surgery or angioplasty, and death.
Particulate matter is made up of tiny particles of dirt, dust, and soot smaller than a single strand of human hair, making it easy for humans to inhale into the respiratory system and move into the blood stream.
Prior studies have linked exposure to particulate matter in air pollution to increased risk of stroke, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and contribute to 30,000 deaths in the United States every year.
Research indicates the environment contributed to negative health effects at Ground Zero for first responders. Thousands of firefighters were exposed for 10 months after the event.
While the study doesn’t prove cause and effect between the exposure at Ground Zero and heart disease, it does show an association between the two.
Other data indicated neighborhoods exposed to World Trade Center dust saw an increase in hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease after 9/11. The new data takes the link one step further in connecting the firefighters’ exposure to higher risk of adverse health effects.
“The findings of the study suggest a significant association between greater WTC exposure and long-term CVD risk,” the researchers concluded. “The findings appear to reinforce the importance of long-term monitoring of the health of survivors of disasters.”