Link Toxic WTC Dust to Ailments Leading to Heart Disease

By Sarah Dorsey Chief Leader

First-responders and others exposed to September 11 dust may be more susceptible to heart disease triggered by other health conditions they acquired from the disaster, researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center announced March 20.

As principal investigator for the WTC CHEST program, Dr. Mary Ann McLaughlin studies the pulmonary effects of inhaling 9/11 particulate matter. Her group examined more than 800 September 11 first-responders between January 2011 and September 2013, and found links between breathing in the toxic dust and obstructive sleep apnea, which causes the upper airways to become blocked during sleep. The condition can strain the cardiovascular system and lead to high blood pressure and heart arrhythmias.

Dust’s Side-Effects

The study found that those who breathed in the most toxic dust from the tower collapse were at highest risk for sleep apnea and also for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Study participants with PTSD had higher levels of a substance called high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), which is linked with cardiovascular disease risk, the authors found. The protein is a biomarker indicating inflammation.

“As a result of our new study findings, we plan to further closely monitor our WTC first-responders for heart disease warning signs,” Ms. McLaughlin said in a statement.

The research is further evidence of a link between breathing in September 11 dust and heart disease. Dr. McLaughlin led a smaller study in 2011 indicating that those who arrived earlier to the disaster—before September 13—had more damage to their blood vessels, including the inflammation that can lead to hardened arteries—than those who came later. That study, however, looked at just 31 cleanup workers.

Linked to Cancers

Trade Center dust has already been linked to dozens of health conditions, including gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses and more than 50 types of cancer. Advocates are already gearing up for the legislative battle expected when the economic compensation authorized by the Zadroga Act expires in 2016. A tiny fraction of the $2.7 billion in the second Victim Compensation Fund it established has so far been distributed.

The WTC CHEST program is part of the World Trade Center Health Program, which is funded through the Zadroga law. It includes several clinics throughout the tri-state area to treat those sickened in the attacks as well as a monitoring program to observe symptoms and analyze health conditions as they develop.

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