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.

  • ‘The doctor warned me that my insurance might not cover the X-ray. What? “There’s no code for 9/11,” he said. Cough.

    Does this remind everyone else of the insurance companies’ denial of Katrina victims, too? If a natural result of a disaster is denied by your insurance company, shouldn’t our government be either putting pressure on them to honor their commitment, or providing coverage for the victims itself? even if multimillionaires might not get as much taxes given back to them over and above the sufferings of their fellow beings.

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  • A friend of mine was a rescuer (cop) buried in the rubble when one of the buildings collapsed. He’s still suffering from extreme PTSD almost 5 years after the event. In fact, he ended up moving out of the city and transferring to an office in upstate New York because he couldn’t stand the ferry ride over into the city every day.

    Another friend was in building 2 and got out. He now lives in Florida, works from home, and hyperventilates if he has to go to a big city or into an office building over 3-4 stories.

    I think PTSD from 9/11 is more widespread than people even imagine.

  • I have nothing meaningful or informative to say, except that I was spellbound by your otherwise quite technical post. It’s the lives behind the word. The image of the women’s shoes littering the ground will stay with me.

  • Jean-Michel

    Hey who’s going to compensate the dead and injured Iraqis you stupid crybaby American???

  • Does this remind everyone else of the insurance companies’ denial of Katrina victims, too?

  • Meg

    Ever since 9/11 (I was standing on Church Street at the southern police line when the first building collapsed) I’ve been bewildered by the term “9/11 Survivors.” Holocaust or war suvivers are those people who lived through hell and yet, somehow, managed to live through it and rebuild a new life, albeit usually a very different one. And yet “9/11 survivors” are defined as people who lost a spouse, parent or child.

    Don’t get me wrong…those people went through hell. But what about the rest of us, who (after swallowing and inhaling huge amounts of debris) miraculously managed to trudge away, shin-deep in ashes, shoes, eyeglasses, building parts and body parts, only to be told by Christine Whitman, GWB and Rudy that all was safe, to get back to work and keep that economy going… never mind that we were working in a toxic crematorium.

    My WTC physical health problems started 2 years later (I am a non-smoker) and have gotten progressively worse. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I will die early because of the exposure, but I really could use both some public recognition, as well as some financial help with the medical/psychological bills, in the meantime.

  • Mark

    Thanks for the information.

    What a lot of people forget is that 9/11 had victims from all over the world.

    With regard to the health consequences many of us are now suffering as a result of breathing the toxic dust, these health consequences are not limited to geography either. We live in a mobile society and doctors everywhere need to be informed as to what to look for, how to treat us, and how to be reimbursed for their services.

  • Peter Aniskovich

    Why aren’t the health problems treated like any other workers comp claim?

  • It saddens me that so many are suffering.

    Did you know there are products out there that can possible clean out the imbedded material in lungs, tissues, cells and just about anything? My friend, Greg S. used to scrape out huge, metal shipping containers when he was a teenager. Later he became a body builder and fitness trainer. He tested every product imaginable and used many super healthy products to help him with body building, enabling him to break records and win many awards. He recently found a product that has been cleaning out his lungs from all that rust and metal from 40 years earlier. It’s now at the top of his list. He was amazed to find a product that did even more than all the cleansing products he had used previously. It works great with heavy metals, toxins and foriegn objects.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to create a daisy chain or domino effect and help these folks who are facing shortened lives and suffering?

    That’s my opinion.

  • Appalling but expects from such a devastating tragedy that left us all
    wounded in one form or the other. With the health problems arising  from 911, some of the symptoms may not be seen for years to come.

    Related lung conditions such as chronic bronchitis and others; due to the dust and  toxic gases in the environment at the time will  increase for years to come. A act of war that will be experienced for decades to come.

  • Insurance companies are only out to make a buck, everyone knows that. The even hire lawyers to fight against paying you when they should.

  • Also, they are a rip off.

  • Peter, Possibly because we are in charge of our body for the most part. At least with worker’s compensation, there is an alternate body that has created factors that led to the injury (outside of our direct control that is)