Study Examines Health Effects Among Survivors of World Trade Center Collapse

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks of the World Trade Center in New York City, survivors of collapsed or damage buildings have reported substantial physical and mental problems. To characterize these conditions, CDC established the World Trade Center Health Registry, which will monitor the status of survivors for 20 years. A report published April 7 presents the initial findings from the WTCHR, which detail a variety of health concerns from the more than 70,000 enrollees in the registry.

A group of researchers, led by Robert M. Brackbill, Ph.D., of the World Trade Center Health Registry, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, published a report in April 7 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that summarizes data from health outcomes collected during interviews conducted with over 70,000 people enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry (WTCHR).

The WTCHR will be used to monitor periodically the mental and physical health of 71,437 enrollees for 20 years. The analysis is limited to 8,418 adult survivors of collapsed buildings and buildings with major or moderate damage, and excludes people who were involved in rescue and recovery.

A total of 62.4 percent of survivors of collapsed or damaged buildings were caught in the dust and debris cloud that resulted from the collapse of the WTC towers, and 63.8 percent experienced three or more potentially psychologically traumatizing events. Injuries were common (43.6 percent), but few survivors reported injuries that would have required extensive treatment.

More than half (56.6 percent) of survivors reported experiencing new or worsening respiratory symptoms after the attacks, 23.9 percent had heartburn/reflux, and 21 percent had severe headaches. At the time of the interview, 10.7 percent of building survivors screened positive for serious psychological distress (SPD).

The long-term ramifications of the health effects are unknown, noted researchers. Many survivors were caught directly in the dust and debris of collapsing towers, a dense cloud of particulate matter that might have produced or exacerbated these health effects.

"Long-term follow-up of building survivors and all other persons enrolled in WTCHR should be maintained, with particular attention to those persons exposed to the dust cloud. Some of these findings might lead to building designs that can minimize injury hazards," researchers recommended.

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