Scientists at NYU Langone Health report that 16 years after the 9/11 attack, children living in Lower Manhattan who probably breathed in the ash and fumes are showing early signs of risk for future heart disease. The researchers, who analyzed blood tests of 308 children, 123 of whom may have come in direct contact with the dust on 9/11, found that children with higher blood levels of the chemicals known to be in the dust had elevated levels of artery-hardening fats in their blood.
The study appears online today in Environment International.
“Since 9/11, we have focused a lot of attention on the psychological and mental fallout from witnessing the tragedy, but only now are the potential physical consequences of being within the disaster zone itself becoming clear,” says study lead investigator and health epidemiologist Leonardo Trasande, M.D., MPP, an associate professor at NYU School of Medicine. He adds that his team's study is the first to suggest long-term cardiovascular health risks in children from toxic chemical exposure on 9/11.
According to Dr. Trasande, the problem appears to be due to exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs. These chemicals, which were released into the air as electronics and furniture burned and include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), were widely used to make plastics more flexible until its health effects, including lower-than-normal birthweights and brain damage, caused U.S. manufacturers to stop using it in 2014.
An analysis by Dr. Trasande in January 2017 revealed that the 123 children (who are now young adults) referenced in the study had significantly higher PFOA blood levels than 185 children who were not living or studying in the city on the day of the attack. Among the latest study's results was that roughly every threefold increase in blood PFOA levels was tied to an average 9% to 15% increase in blood fats, including low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and triglycerides. Raised fat levels in the blood, especially LDL, are known risk factors for heart disease.
“Our study emphasizes the importance of monitoring the health consequences from 9/11 in children exposed to the dust and offers hope that early intervention can alleviate some of the dangers to health posed by the disaster,” says Dr. Trasande.
In another study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in June, a different research team at NYU found raised blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in people who reported being exposed to World Trade Center dust on 9/11. Previous research has linked increases in CRP to inflammation and higher rates of posttraumatic stress disorder.