After the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 in 2001, the “cloud” of toxic debris across Lower Manhattan, left behind nearby children who breathed in the ash and fumes to suffer from heart disease 16 years after.
An analysis by NYU Langone Health researchers of blood tests of 308 children, 123 of whom may have come in direct contact with the dust on 9/11 showed 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.
“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 lead author of the study Leonardo Trasande, associate professor at NYU School of Medicine.
Now adults, these children were enrollees in the World Trade Center Health Registry (WTCHR), which is helping to track 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 study is the first to suggest long-term cardiovascular health risks in children from toxic chemical exposure on 9/11.
Trasande says the long-term danger may stem from exposure to certain perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs — chemicals released into the air as electronics and furniture burned in the disaster. Its health effects include lower-than-normal birthweights and brain damage, and it was banned in the US since 2014.
The study showed that the 123 children in the WTCHR had significantly higher PFOA blood levels than 185 children who were not living or studying in the city on the day of the attack.
Roughly every threefold increase in blood PFOA levels was tied to an average 9 percent to 15 percent increase in blood fats, including LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, known risk factors for heart disease.
In another study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in June, raised blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) were found in people who were exposed to WTC dust on 9/11. Previous research has linked increases in CRP to inflammation and higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The analysis on children will be published in the journal Environment International.