9/11 Firefighters at Great Risk for Heart Issues: Study

By WCBS Newsradio 880

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — New York City firefighters who rushed to the World Trade Center or spent more time at the site following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks are at a greater risk for developing heart problems, according to a new study published Friday.

The study, conducted by doctors at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, "suggest a significant association" between longer exposure at Ground Zero and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Compared to those with minimal exposure, we actually saw that those responding in the morning of 9/11 had a 44% increase in their risk for developing cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. David Prezant, chief medical officer at the FDNY and professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

He says the study reinforces the importance of long-term monitoring of the overall health of survivors of disasters, not just for cancers or other illnesses.

“One of the strengths of this study is that it's demonstrates what we call an ‘exposure response gradient,’ which makes the association with World Trade Center exposure more credible. In other words, what we found was those people arriving in the morning of 9/11, when the acute exposure was highest, they had a 44% increased risk for developing heart disease. Those people who responded later in the afternoon or the subsequent day had a 24% increase in their risk,” Dr. Prezant explained.

He explains that as researchers broke down the response hour-by-hour, the risk for developing heart disease continued to decrease.

The study notes that currently, the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund does not cover cardiovascular care, meaning the 9,796 firefighters observed will receive no compensation for heart diseases from the fund.

Dr. Prezant hopes the study’s results can help extend coverage.

“I think we're making a strong case, especially since other researchers have found and increasing cardiovascular disease with different types of World Trade Center exposure. This study is a much longer study and it doesn't have some of the limitations of their studies, so I think that this needs to be considered and we'll see over time what the ultimate decision is,” he said.

The cardiovascular diseases that appear to be connected to 9/11 include heart attacks, stroke, angioplasty, coronary artery surgery and unstable angina.