Study of World Trade Center Attack Responders Links PTSD, Respiratory Illnesses

A newly published study has drawn an “extraordinary association” between the rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and lower respiratory illness among first responders to the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.

A report at cites a study authored by researchers at Stony Brook University and Stony Brook World Trade Center Health Program which finds a link between the psychological disease to respiratory troubles for those first responders. Thousands of firefighters, police officers and other maintenance workers have been diagnosed with both PTSD and myriad respiratory illnesses in the decade since the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. This study says those illnesses are related.

In addition to being exposed to toxic chemicals produced by the terrorist attacks and the collapse of the skyscrapers, first responders to the Ground Zero site also suffered mental trauma and the latter is likely causing more respiratory trouble. First responders have literally been fighting since the day after the World Trade Center attacks for funding for health care coverage to compensate them for the injuries they suffered and continue to suffer from due to their exposure to the toxins and trauma of that event.

For the study, researchers examined more than 20,000 first responders, including “traditional responders” and “non-traditional responders” who rushed to the Ground
Zero site following the attacks or were assigned to clear the debris at the site in the weeks and months following the attacks. “Traditional” responders include police officers and those most likely to witness trauma on a regular basis, though likely not on the scale of the WTC attacks. “Non-traditional” responders included maintenance workers and clean-up crews who were more likely at the scene following the attacks after the buildings collapsed as the site was being cleared.

Traditional first responders have suffered from PTSD at rates of just under six percent. For those not typically exposed to such trauma, the “non-traditional” responders, the rates of PTSD was much higher, 23 percent. Respiratory illnesses among these two groups are similar but the rate is slightly higher among non-traditional crews, 28.4 percent as compared to 22.5 percent. Researchers determined PTSD and respiratory illnesses among these first responders were related. According to the report, “PTSD was like to mediate the connection between WTC exposure and respiratory symptoms.”

Researchers concluded that first responders to the World Trade Center site should be monitored in the future for symptoms of PTSD as it likely will lead to respiratory distress in the future or is the cause of current symptoms. More research is needed to better identify why PTSD causes respiratory illnesses, specifically among WTC first responders.

Drawing these links is vital to opening streams of health care funding for the individuals who remain impacted by their work at Ground Zero. The federal government refuses to acknowledge the fact that some diseases and health conditions were the result of exposure to the conditions at Ground Zero and by doing so, cuts off funding for future health care.

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