Because of the Registry’s work, we know that the majority of people exposed to the WTC attack are healthy and symptom free, but thousands of those most directly exposed have one or more chronic health conditions.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are the most common health effect of the 9/11 attacks.
- Up to 20% of adults directly exposed to the disaster or injured in the attack had PTSD symptoms 5 to 6 years after the attack; this is four times the rate in the general population.
- Risk factors for PTSD were intense exposure to the dust cloud
- being on a high floor at WTC
- evacuating late
- working for an employer that experienced loss of life,
- witnessing horror,
- knowing someone who was killed in the attack,
- event-related job loss,
- having little social support.
- Rescue and recovery workers who got to the WTC site on or soon after 9/11 were more likely to develop PTSD than those who arrived later. The longer someone worked at the site the greater the risk for PTSD.
- Rescue and recovery workers from non-emergency occupations such as construction and sanitation workers also suffered higher rates of PTSD than emergency responders.
- People who experienced trauma before or after 9/11, such as losing a job after the attacks, or urban or domestic violence, were at increased risk for developing PTSD.
- Ten years after the attack, 15% of Registry enrollees had PTSD symptoms. PTSD was more likely to persist or get worse in people who were unable to get mental health treatment, had high 9/11-related exposure, were unemployed, or had little social support.
- Ten years after the attacks, 15 % of Registry enrollees reported depression and 10% reported both depression and PTSD.
- Five to six years after the attacks, people who had the greatest exposure to the events of 9/11 or who had 9/11-related PTSD were about twice as likely to drink four to five drinks at a time (binge drinking).
- Smokers with mental health conditions are less likely to quit smoking, and may need additional support to do so.
- Within 6 years after 9/11, one in ten Registry enrollees developed asthma-- three times the national rate.
- The risk for asthma was higher for rescue, recovery, and clean-up workers; residents who didn’t evacuate their homes; residents and office workers who returned to homes or workplaces covered with a thick coating of dust; and people who both lived and worked in lower Manhattan after 9/11.
Lung function describes how well a person can move air in and out of the lungs.
- Firefighters and emergency medical service (EMS) workers experienced sharp declines in lung function within a year of the attack. Ten years after 9/11, these changes were largely the same, even in even those who never smoked.
- Six to seven years after 9/11, four times as many firefighters and twice as many EMS workers had below-normal lung function for their ages, as before the attacks. Lung function declines were greater for current smokers than for non-smokers.
- Changes in lung function also affected area workers and residents.
- Ten years after the WTC attack, lower respiratory symptoms (LRS) such as coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing, or using an inhaler still affected rescue and recovery workers, area residents and workers, and passers-by. Half of those with persistent LRS also had PTSD, depression, or generalized anxiety disorder.
- Respiratory illness and mental health conditions often occur together in people exposed to disaster.
- People who suffered more than one injury on 9/11 and have 9/11-related PTSD are three times more likely to develop heart disease as people who weren’t injured and didn’t have PTSD.
- Male rescue and recovery workers are at higher risk for subsequent heart-related hospitalization.
Infant, child, and adolescent health
- Very young children who were caught in the dust cloud on 9/11 are at increased risk for developing asthma.
- Six to seven years after 9/11, adolescents who were exposed to WTC at ages 5 or older were at increased risk for behavior problems.
- Babies born to mothers with exposure to 9/11 and PTSD had a higher risk of low birth weight and to be born pre-term.