The World Trade Center Health Registry meeting

I’m at the first public meeting of the World Trade Center Health Registry. More than 71,000 people registered and gave 30-minute interviews on their health after the attacks; it is the largest health registry in U.S. history. There are perhaps a few hundred in the room tonight. I look around at this diverse crowd of people and realize that the only thing that brings us together is what we experienced that day.

Tonight, they will release their first results and answer questions.

: A few days ago, I went to my doctor for a checkup and he ordered an annual chest X-ray since I inhaled a great deal of the cloud of destruction that day, which led to pneumonia and then to my cardiac fibrillation. The doctor warned me that my insurance might not cover the X-ray. What? “There’s no code for 9/11,” he said. Cough.

: In the registry, 61 percent were building occupants or passers-by; 43 percent were rescue workers; 21 percent were residents of the area; 4 percent were school students and staff. 42 percent were caught in the dust and debris cloud; 55.7 percent witnessed at least one traumatic event; 14.4 percent evacuated from a damaged building; 5.8 percent worked on the WTC pile. In the preliminary findings, 67 percent reported respiratory health symptoms. Adult enrollees reported higher rates of psychological distress than the citywide average (8 v. 5 percent).

A first study of a subgroup concentrated on survivors of collapsed and damaged buildings, not passers-by (like me) or rescue workers. Of them 95 percent witnessed a traumatic event, 64 percent three or more; 62 percent were caught in the cloud; 44 percent sustained injuries; 57 percent reported respiratory problems and 11 percent probable severe psychological distress.

Those caught in the dust cloud have much worse health problems than the rest: 46 vs. 25 percent reported sinus irritation, 44 v 21 shortness of breath, 34 v 17 persistent cough, 14 v. 6 psychological distress, 2 v 1 percent newly reported asthma. These problems were reported two to three years after 9/11.

That is frightening for those of us who did inhale and ingest the debris from that cloud.

A study about evacuation found that women — who usually are the first out in a disaster — were slower in this case because of the difficulty they had with their footwear. In the news story I wrote that day and my podcasts later, I recalled coming to the concourse of the World Trade Center moments after the first plane hit the first tower and seeing shoes scattered everywhere; women ran out of them.

Truly frightening: The disabled were slower to get going and get out and were three times more likely to be injured.

We are about to get a followup survey and they will send specific surveys to residents about their homes, to rescue workers about their masks, and to building survivors about their experience in evacuation. There are papers being prepared n ow on the probable level of post traumatic stress disorder among residents, rescue workers, and survivors; asthma and injuries among child survivors; mask use; and respiratory health of lower Manhattan residents.

: In the Q&A, I asked them to give our doctors guidelines on what to look for in us and to do PR to get the insurance companies to recognize a code for 9/11. They said they are sending out new guidelines to New York doctors; I asked that they send them to Jersey, too. Another registrant asks about the ongoing screenings we should have and how to judge ongoing respiratory problems; he said that he and his neighbors all say they just do not breath as deeply as they did. The person running the evacuation study said they have learned a lot about perparedness and found that most was “unbelievably suboptimal.” She said we were lucky on 9/11 insofar as the World Trade Center were occupied by only 17,000 people who were evacuated when there could have been more than 100,000 people in them.