New Post-9/11 Concern: Dust-Damaged Kidneys

Sarah Dorsey, Chief Leader

While first responders celebrated the news two years ago that September 11-related cancer care would be covered by the Federal government under the Zadroga Act, another less-recognized ailment appears to have been quietly stalking some survivors.

Dr. Mary Ann McLaughlin, a researcher at Mt. Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, was at the time leading a study that would link inhalation of toxic 9/11 dust to kidney disease.

First responders who breathed in the most dust, she found, tended to have the highest levels of albumin in their urine, a protein that can signal renal damage.

‘Extremely Inflamed’

“We believe high exposure to the massive dust cloud of air pollution at Ground Zero may have extremely inflamed the endothelial lining of blood vessels leading to the kidneys,” causing damage, Dr. McLaughlin said in a press release.

Now she is building on that earlier work in a new two-year study funded with $1.1 million from the World Trade Center Health Program. The initial group of 183 participants has burgeoned to 550 first responders. Researchers will assess the level of damage in the kidneys and whether heavy metals like lead and mercury are in the tissue.

Victims of kidney disease are already showing a public face. One participant in Dr. McLaughlin’s earlier study, retired Police Officer Elizabeth Lugo, told the Daily News in November 2013 that a biopsy had revealed scar tissue and inflammation in her kidneys. She was left feeling tired and unwell, and her face and stomach were often swollen.

Link to Heart Disease?

The Icahn study will also examine the connection between renal damage and heart disease. Studies have long shown a connection between ailments of the two systems, with high blood pressure being recognized as a risk factor for kidney disease and people with renal trouble being more likely to have heart disease.

Doctors have already found that other ailments common among September 11 survivors, including obstructive sleep apnea and post-traumatic stress disorder, can impact cardiovascular health.

Dr. McLaughlin led a 2014 study at the medical school linking inhalation of more 9/11 dust to higher instances of PTSD and sleep apnea.

In the new study, Dr. McLaughlin is working with Dr. Christina Wyatt, an associate professor of nephrology at Mt. Sinai.

“Our long-term goal is to identify and minimize the risks for these conditions among individuals exposed to the inhaled toxins,” Dr. McLaughlin said.

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