Toxic dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center 16 years ago is sickening the next generation.
Children exposed to chemicals released into the air on 9/11 show early signs of heart disease risk, according to a new NYU Langone Health study.
Sixteen years after the World Trade Center towers collapsed and covered Lower Manhattan in a cloud of toxic dust, NYU Langone Health researchers analyzed blood tests of 308 children, almost half of whom may have come into direct contact with the debris on 9/11.
Kids with higher blood levels of the chemicals known to be in the dust had elevated levels of artery-hardening fats in their blood, reveals the report published Thursday in the journal Environmental International.
“Since 9/11, we have focused a lot of attention on the psychological and mental fallout from witnessing the tragedy, only now are the potential physical consequences of being within the disaster zone itself becoming clear,” said health epidemiologist Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor at NYU School of Medicine and the study’s lead investigator. The study is the first to link long-term cardiovascular health risks in children from toxic chemical exposure on 9/11.
“The psychological focus of study on children was too narrow,” Trasande told the Daily News. “Kids are the least well-studied population in regard to the World Trade Center disaster. The cardiovascular consequences described here were overdue in being assessed and evaluated.”
‘Only now are the potential physical consequences of being within the disaster zone itself becoming clear.’
Study subjects who were more likely to be exposed to the dust as children are mostly young adults now. Research participants were enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry (WTCHR), which tracks the physical and mental health, through annual check-ups, of nearly 2,900 children who either lived or attended school in Lower Manhattan on 9/11.
The long-term danger could be because of exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — chemicals released into the air as electronics and furniture in the towers burned.
These chemicals include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), widely used to make plastics more flexible. U.S. manufacturers to stop using it in 2014 when its dangerous health effects were found, including lower-than-normal birthweights and brain damage.
Children exposed to 9/11 debris had significantly higher PFOA blood levels than the children who were not in the city on the day of the attack. Left unchecked, higher levels of fat in the blood can lead to blood-vessel blockages and heart attacks.
The most recent analysis found that roughly every threefold increase in blood PFOA levels was tied to an average 9% to 15% increase in blood fats, which are known risk factors for heart disease. These risks, however, can be countered with diet and exercise.
“Our study emphasizes the importance of monitoring the health consequences from 9/11 in children exposed to the dust,” said Trasande, “and offers hope that early intervention can alleviate some of the dangers to health posed by the disaster.”
The researcher added that the study is the first to link long-term cardiovascular health risks in children from toxic chemical exposure on 9/11.
Trasande’s findings add to mounting evidence into the devastating health impacts of 9/11. Studies have previously shown that first responders and others exposed to World Trade Center dust were at a higher risk to develop lung problems, respiratory symptoms, sinus problems or asthma.
In addition, there are certain mental health conditions, digestive disorders, musculoskeletal issues and cancers as being related to 9/11.