In January 2002, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received requests for Health Hazard Evaluations from labor unions representing workers employed in buildings in the vicinity of the World Trade Center (WTC).
The unions claim workers reported persistent physical and mental health symptoms that they associated with exposures from the WTC collapse and ensuing fires. NIOSH conducted surveys of the workers to determine rates of physical and mental health symptoms.
A new report issued by the agency and published in a special edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates that workers employed near the WTC site have significantly higher rates of physical and mental health symptoms than workers employed more than five miles from the site.
Researchers suggest programs should be tailored to address the needs of these workers, and the effectiveness of these programs should be evaluated. Further assessment is warranted to describe the nature and extent of illness in specific working groups and individual medical follow-up in those with persistent symptoms.
Out of four study groups, approximately one-fourth of each of two groups who worked closer to Ground Zero reported they lost time from work because of physical symptoms experienced after the WTC disaster. Employees at the two sites closer to the WTC also reported a significantly higher prevalence ratio of new physician-diagnosed PTSD after September 11, but rates for allergies, asthma, and depression were not statistically different. The prevalence of eye irritation, nose/throat irritation, cough, nausea and shortness of breath was significantly higher four the employees working closer to the WTC, and approximately four to six months after the attacks, 5 percent to 30 percent said they had persistent physical symptoms.
"The findings from these surveys indicate that four to six months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, workers surveyed near the WTC site had substantial rates of irritative, respiratory and mental health symptoms and lost work time, compared with similar workers surveyed more than five miles from the WTC site. These findings indicate how the impact of the WTC attacks extended beyond the WTC site to affect the health of persons working nearby," said researchers.