NEW YORK CITY - April 7, 2006 - According to survey findings released today and based on World Trade Center Health Registry (WTCHR) data, survivors of buildings that collapsed or were damaged as a result of the World Trade Center attack reported having substantial physical and mental health problems when interviewed in 2003 and 2004. Findings were from the 12% of adults in the Registry who were present between the time of the first airplane impact and noon on September 11, 2001, and who were survivors from one of 38 primarily nonresidential buildings or structures that were damaged or collapsed.
Results are outlined by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), along with the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and others, in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Surveillance Summary article. The report is available online at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/ss/ss5502.pdf. Later this month, the WTCHR will launch the first follow-up survey of all Registry enrollees to reassess their physical and mental health status. Registry staff are preparing reports on key findings among other Registry groups, including residents, children, rescue and recovery workers and volunteers.
"The Registry will help us determine the long-term health consequences and how best to diagnose and treat them," said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. "We will also conduct in-depth studies that include medical examinations and matches to other registries. This effort is extensive, and we thank every Registry participant for their cooperation."
"We are just beginning to learn about the health effects of the worst day in New York City's history," said Daniel Slippen, a former Port Authority employee, a survivor of the WTC attacks and a member of the World Trade Center Registry's Community Advisory Board. "It is critical to know whether these physical and mental effects will continue, diminish or grow worse over time. This is why maintaining the World Trade Center Health Registry for as long as possible is so important. These findings will help us all learn as much as we can from this terrible tragedy."
More than 70,000 people are enrolled in the Registry, making it the largest-ever effort in the U.S. to systematically monitor the health of people exposed to a large-scale disaster. More than half (57%) of the 8,500 building survivors in the survey reported experiencing new or worsening respiratory symptoms, and almost all evacuees of damaged or collapsed buildings said they witnessed at least one event with potential for psychological trauma, such as observing people who were injured or killed (59%) or people falling or jumping from the WTC towers (61%). Most building survivors - nearly two in three (64%) - witnessed three or more potentially psychological traumatizing events on September 11, and 11% screened positive for probable serious psychological distress at the time of the interview.
Presence in the dust or debris cloud caused by the collapse of the World Trade Center was the strongest factor associated with physical and mental health effects, according to the analysis. More than 62% of building survivors reported being caught in the cloud, with sinus problems, nose irritation or postnatal irritation the most commonly reported new or worsening respiratory symptom (46% compared to 25% in those not in the dust cloud). Survivors caught in the dust cloud were twice as likely to report newly diagnosed asthma after September 11, 2001 than those who reported not being in the cloud.
Presence in the dust cloud also had the strongest association with self-reported new depression, anxiety or emotional problems. The reported level of probable serious psychological distress among survivors at the time of the interview was nearly twice that of all adult New Yorkers during that same time period. Nonrespiratory problems after September 11 were less prevalent than respiratory problems, with heartburn, indigestion or reflux (24%) and severe headaches (21%) the most commonly reported conditions. Injuries were commonly reported by building survivors (44%), but few reported injuries that may have required extensive treatment, such as burns or head injuries.
Analysis did not include rescue, recovery and clean-up workers because these groups had other types of exposures (e.g. extended periods of work at the WTC site removing debris) that need to be considered in a separate analysis. The Registry was designed to follow up with enrollees for 20 years to more fully understand the long-term impact of physical and mental health problems; findings will be made available to enrollees, other September 11-related health projects and the public.
About the World Trade Center Health Registry
The WTCHR was launched on September 5, 2003, to track the health of residents, school children, workers and others who were directly exposed to the collapse of the World Trade Center, or of those who worked at the WTC site, at the recovery operations on Staten Island or on barges that transported debris.
Findings drawn from the World Trade Center Health Registry will enable researchers to observe patterns that may otherwise be invisible to individual physicians. All information given will be kept strictly private and confidential, and no medical examinations or tests were required for initial enrollment.
The World Trade Center Health Registry is a collaborative effort between DOHMH and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), with funding provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Visit http://www.wtcregistry.org for more information on the Registry.