The repercussions of 9/11 continue to exact a toll on the health of Americans. An analysis by NYU Langone Health of blood tests from children who may have breathed in the toxic ashes and fumes from the collapse of the World Trade Center towers found that they have risk factors for future heart disease.
Researchers examined blood tests of 308 children, 123 who may have come in direct contact with dust on 9/11. They found that children with higher blood levels of the chemicals known to be in the dust also 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 Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor at NYU School of Medicine.
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.
Chemicals include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), widely used to make plastics more flexible until its health effects — including lower-than-normal birthweights and brain damage — led U.S. manufacturers to stop using it in 2014.
Other results of the study showed that 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.
According to Trasande, raised fat levels in the blood, especially LDL, are known risk factors for heart disease. If left untreated, it can lead to blood vessel blockages and heart attack.
Fortunately, he says, these very early signs of cardiovascular risk observed in the children can generally be addressed by diet, weight control, and exercise.
"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 Trasande.
The results appear in the journal Environment International.
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 WTC dust on 9/11.
Previous research has linked increases in CRP to inflammation and higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
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