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9/11 first responders have an elevated risk of heart disease

9/11 first responders have an elevated risk of heart disease. Researchers have determined that New York City firefighters exposed to 9/11 World Trade Center (WTC) dust have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

According to the study, the first responders on the scene have a 44-percent higher risk of CVD compared to firefighters who arrived when the airborne dust was not as thick. 

Study lead author Dr. David J. Prezant is a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a pulmonary disease specialist at Montefiore Health System, and the chief medical officer for the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY).

“The increase in risk was significant, even taking into account known CVD risk factors such as age, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking,” said Dr. Prezant. 

Earlier studies linked WTC exposure to a higher risk of blood cancer and autoimmune rheumatologic diseases. Dr. Prezant said the research collectively “highlights the need to add these health conditions to the list of WTC-related diseases that are coverable under the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.”

The current study was focused on 9,796 male firefighters who worked at the WTC site. Most were non-smokers with an average age of 40 on September 11, 2001. 

The researchers divided the firefighters into four groups: those who first arrived at the WTC site during the morning of 9/11, those who first arrived that afternoon, those who first arrived on September 12, and those who first arrived between days 3 and 14.

The experts also reviewed 16 years of medical records, physician exams, and questionnaires to assess the participants for primary and secondary CVD events. 

Firefighters who arrived during and immediately after the WTC collapse were found to have a 44-percent higher risk of experiencing primary and secondary CVD events compared with those who arrived on September 12 or later.

In addition, firefighters who worked at the WTC site for six months or more were 30 percent more likely to experience a primary or secondary CVD event. These associations remained statistically significant regardless of other factors, such as age, race, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and probable PTSD.

“An important message is that new chest pain in this group should not automatically be attributed to well-known WTC-related illnesses, such as acid reflux or obstructive airway disease. It might very well be associated with CVD,” said Dr. Prezant.

“Our results emphasize why it is crucial to monitor the long-term health of anyone exposed to massive environmental disasters, even many years after the event,” added study co-lead author Dr. Rachel Zeig-Owens. “By screening for and treating the other CVD risk factors – such as elevated cholesterol, hypertension, obesity, and smoking – we are able to lower the overall risk of CVD in those most exposed to the World Trade Center disaster.”

The study is published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Anthony Correia

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