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9/11 First Responders at Risk for PTSD and Sleep Apnea

Almost 13 years ago, the World Trade Center towers collapsed in New York City, NY. Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, presented two separate studies at a recent American Heart Association’s conference in relation to first responders on 9/11. The research shows that the particulates that were inhaled increases the risk of obstructed sleep apnea (OSA) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which may impact cardiovascular health.

"Our study shows high exposure to the massive dust cloud of air pollution at Ground Zero has increased the risk among first responders of both obstructive sleep apnea and PTSD," said cardiologist Mary Ann McLaughlin, M.D., M.P.H.

McLaughlin is the principal investigator for the WTC-CHEST Program at Mount Sinai evaluating the effects of exposure in World Trade Center (WTC) responders 10-14 years following the events of 9/11.

"As a result, this puts our 9/11 first responders at higher risk of developing heart disease," she said.

Police, firefighters, and others at Ground Zero were exposed to varying levels of a dust cloud of air filled with cement dust, smoke, glass fibers, and heavy metals.

In each of the two analyses, researchers studied the same WTC-CHEST Program population of more than 800 participants between January 2011 to September 2013 with varying exposure to particulate matter ranging from very high, high, intermediate, and low. Their analysis took into account each first responder’s time of arrival, proximity, duration and level of exposure at Ground Zero.

"Elevated exposure to the particulate matter from 9/11 caused upper airway inflammation and is a significant contributing factor to the pathogenesis of obstructive sleep apnea," McLaughlin said.

"There is strong evidence in our study data showing a significant risk of inhaled particulate matter exposure and risk of obstructed sleep apnea in the studied group of WTC first responders."

In addition, researchers linked particulate matter inhalation to the high risk of PTSD. Study results show those with very high or high exposure were more likely to have PTSD.

Also, they found that those responders with PTSD also had elevated biomarkers for increased cardiovascular disease risk including high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), a key biomarker of inflammation indicative of increased cardiovascular risk.

This research study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The studies seek to further examine the relationship between pulmonary and cardiac function abnormalities, other markers of chronic cardiopulmonary disease, kidney dysfunction, and further elucidate the pathophysiologic effects of exposure to inhaled particulate matter on 9/11.