As the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is marked this month, the country is reflecting on changes and loss. But what about health effects from the event? Though some are hard to pinpoint, and some are more obvious than others, here’s what we know ten years later in regards to health-related issues.
Certainly most of the country (and world) felt psychological symptoms that stemmed from the horrific attacks ten years ago, including a collective depression. But for those who were directly involved (firefighters and police, survivors), many still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other health issues to this day. PTSD is a relatively new disorder, having been first named about 30 years ago.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a complex anxiety disorder that may occur when a person experiences or witnesses an event perceived as a threat and in which he or she experiences fear, terror, or helplessness. PTSD is sometimes summarized as “a normal reaction to abnormal events.” It was first defined as a distinctive disorder in 1980. Originally diagnosed in veterans of the Vietnam War, it is now recognized in civilian survivors of rape or other criminal assaults; natural disasters; plane crashes, train collisions, or industrial explosions; acts of terrorism; child abuse; or war.
[Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Rebecca J. Frey, PhD. The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Ed. Laurie J. Fundukian. Detroit: Gale, 2011. 5 vols. Health & Wellness Resource Center. Gale. 8 September 2011]
According to a New York Times article, millions of dollars will be spent treating PTSD sufferers over the next few years through the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act (passed by Congress in December 2010), which provides $4.3 billion to compensate and treat people with 9/11-related illnesses. Though this sounds like a huge pool of money, it must be split between those with mental problems (who will get treatment allottments only) and those with physical ailments such as breathing problems (who will also receive monetary compensation in addition to treatment), which will make that money go quickly. Controversy abounds as to the allottment, especially because a case could be made for the fact that most of New York City and some residents of Washington DC might qualify to be diagonsed with PTSD. It’s a complicated subject matter and many different groups have their own opinions on how the money should be used.
Respiratory issues that developed in Ground Zero rescuers and workers is a health problem that has been easier to track than others. Roughly 70 percent of nearly 10,000 workers tested at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York from 2002 to 2004 reported that they had new or substantially worsened respiratory problems while or after working at Ground Zero.
9/11 also has links to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). According to an article from HealthDay News, the current analysis backs up previous indications that gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms are more likely to develop in those who also have asthma and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But GERD symptoms showed up independent of other health issues for people who were in the vicinity of the Twin Towers when they collapsed.
New studies are starting to point to a link between those who worked around rescue efforts at Ground Zero and Cancer. However, as this news report explains, cancer is not one of the diseases that the Act will cover and most experts agree that more research needs to be conducted.
The site NYC.gov offers comprehensive information on health issues stemming from 9/11, including information for those directly effected. The organization reports that though it is difficult to measure the impact of 9/11 on children who went to school, lived in the area, whose parents were part of the rescue and recovery effort or who lost family members, studies do show an increase of asthma for this group of children.
For some, ten years seems like yesterday. And as far as health research is concerned for tracking health patterns, ten years out from 2001 isn’t enough time yet to track some ongoing and chronic health problems and fully know what the long-term effects will be. Researchers are still looking into issues regarding mental health, asthma and other respiratory issues, as well as cancer, and will continue to do so.