People are Still Suffering 20 Years After 9/11
Twenty years after 9/11, people are still suffering because of the terrorist attack on the country. Many people think about those we lost that day, but many people have also been lost because of the health impacts of walking through the wreckage. Hundreds of thousands of tons of cement, steel, glass, computers, electrical cable, heating and transformer fluid, and other materials were crushed into small bits that would later be inhaled and ingested by firefighters and other first responders. The air in the area was not safe to breathe, but the Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman told the public it was safe around Ground Zero. The air contained glass fibers, asbestos, lead, and polychlorinated biphenyls all small enough to be inhaled. After the EPA measured and analyzed the air quality of Ground Zero, it found that the area had the highest level of dioxins measured of any place in the world.
When working in what was known as “the pile,” first responders started to cough, experience nosebleeds, and vomit. Some also had migraines, sinus infections, blurred vison, and a constant upset stomach. A new term was coined called “World Trade Center cough,” a condition that includes shortness of breath, nasal congestion, and acid reflux. Now there are chronic conditions that people suffer from after working at Ground Zero. The conditions include asthma, sinusitis, sleep apnea, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and many different types of cancer. Firefighters who worked at the wreckage also have an increased risk of heart disease and autoimmune disease.
Now doctors are seeing cognitive decline in first responders much younger than the average age it would typically be seen. Researchers looked at 818 first responders and found that 104 of them had scores indicating they have cognitive impairment. Ten of the responders had scores indicating they possibly have dementia. Researchers found that the first responders had impairment three times the rate of people in their 70s. The researchers did not believe the results they were seeing, so they tested 1,000 responders with a different test and found that 15 percent had cognitive impairment scores after being tested for reaction time, processing speed, and memory.
Stony Brook Researchers also found that when researching 1,800 first responders who were cognitively healthy originally, 14 percent developed impairment within 2 and a half years. Responders with PTSD and impaired cognition were also found to have blood and brain abnormalities similar to those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other similar diseases.
9/11 and first responders’ cognitive function being impaired is not definitive, but the evidence is very strong. First responders breathed in microscopic particles that are toxic to brain cells and have a link to Alzheimer’s and dementia. A protein was found in first responders linked to neuroinflammation, with higher levels of the protein existing in responders who spent more time at Ground Zero. A researcher injected the Ground Zero dust into mice and found that they suffered neuroinflammation and the metals in the dust persisted in their brains just like the first responders.
Researchers also looked at the PTSD the responders were suffering from and the cognitive decline it inevitably causes. The responders who were at the site of Ground Zero for longer periods were more likely to have cognitive impairment and higher levels of PTSD. This could mean that the toxic air could be working with the PTSD to cause serious impairment in the brain. Research still needs to be done about Ground Zero exposure and cognitive decline, especially to see if the dust speeds up or causes cognitive impairment. Until everything is known about Ground Zero illnesses, all first responders need to be taken care of, even if their illnesses are not currently linked to working in the area.
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