This year marks the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York City. And while we take this time to reflect on the thousands of people we lost during this tragedy, it's also important to pay homage to the heroes who tried to save lives at the site, especially since their health continues to suffer.
A series of studies has found that the first responders and workers at the World Trade Center site continue to suffer physical and mental illnesses.
The first study found that of more than 27,000 workers, almost 28 percent had asthma, 42 percent had sinusitis and 39 percent had gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Researchers believe that inhaling the dust caused inflammation and scarring and burned the throat and esophagus. The senior author, Philip Landrigan, MD, told the press that swallowing this dust is like inhaling a powdered form of Drano.
Researchers also hypothesize that people who have experienced these symptoms may have an increased chance of developing lung or stomach cancer. And from a mental health standpoint, researchers found that almost 28 percent of rescue workers suffered from depression, 32 percent from post traumatic stress disorder and 21 percent from panic disorder.
In a second study, researchers looked specifically at the connections between cancer and the 9/11 workers. HealthDay News reported:
[Seven] years after 9/11, male firefighters who were at the World Trade Center after it was attacked had a 10 percent increased risk of cancer compared with the general population and a 19 percent increased risk compared to firefighters who hadn't been sent there.
The fact that firefighters who hadn't been exposed to the toxic dust and fumes from the World Trade Center had a lower incidence of cancer than the general population was to be expected, given that these individuals tend to be in better health than the average man or woman.
Although there seemed to be a slight trend toward increased risk in certain types of cancer, including stomach, colon and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, people who had been near the WTC disaster had a 58 percent decreased risk of lung cancer.
Again, this may be due to the good health of firefighters to begin with. The nine firefighters who did develop lung cancer were all smokers.
It's important to note that air quality can impact everyday Americans as well. Smog and pollution from factories, smoking, fires, illegal dumping and chemicals from your own home are believed to be linked with asthma, heart disease, allergies, respiratory disease, cancer and even premature death.
To learn more about the health effects of the 9/11 attacks, visit the WTC Health Registry.
To learn more about air pollution, related health issues and what you can do to reduce pollution, visit the Environmental Protection Agency's website.
(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)