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September 07, 2019

Firefighters who responded to World Trade Center attacks more likely to have heart disease

Dust and combustion products may have played a role in enhanced risk

The first firefighters on the scene of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City have an increased risk of heart disease, according to a new study.

Arriving when the airborne dust was thickest at the World Trade Center on that fateful morning 18 years ago, they are 44 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease when compared to fellow firefighters who arrived later, researchers found.

Exposure to dust and combustion products may have triggered chronic inflammation that increased the firefighters' risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the researchers.

Previous research has found that Ground Zero exposure is linked to various adverse long-term health effects, including respiratory problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and various cancers.

The latest study highlights the need to add cardiovascular disease to the list of health conditions covered under the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, said lead researcher Dr. David J. Prezant, FDNY's chief medical officer.

"The increase in risk was significant, even taking into account known CVD risk factors such as age, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, diabetes and smoking," Prezant said in a statement.

He added that chest pain among these firefighters should not be automatically attributed to illnesses well-known to impact the people who responded to the attacks, like acid reflux or obstructive airway diseases.

Prezant is a pulmonary disease specialist at Montefiore Health System and a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Researchers from both institutions worked with FDNY to conduct the study.

Researchers reviewed 16 years of medical records, physician examinations and questionnaires answered by 9,796 firefighters who worked at Ground Zero.

Researchers divided the firefighters into four groups based on how early they arrived at the World Trade Center site.

Those arriving during the morning of the attacks were the most likely to experience primary and secondary cardiovascular events.

Additionally, firefighters who spent at least six months working at the site were 30 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who spent less time working there.

The vast majority of the study's participants were white men and most were nonsmokers. The firefighters averaged 40 years of age at the time of the attacks.

No women were included because there were not enough female firefighters at the World Trade Center site to collect meaningful data, researchers said.

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