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Toxic Cloud from September 11th Still Hangs Over Children Born After the Attacks

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While the fires from “Ground Zero” were still burning, scientists and environmentalists were already predicting a disaster that would be even greater than the immediate loss of life that occurred on the day of the terrorist attacks.

The toxic cloud that hung over New York City for months was an environmental catastrophe of unprecedented proportions that prompted numerous scientific studies designed to ascertain the extent of the health risks to first-responders, emergency personnel, construction workers, area residents, and office workers.

One particular area of concern was, and still is, the impact on babies of mothers who were pregnant when the attacks occurred and who lived within two miles of the World Trade Center.

The Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health has been conducting an ongoing study called the World Trade Center Pregnancy Study. Other institutions, organizations, and independent researchers have also studied the actual and potential future effects the massive amounts of toxins that were released as a result of the fine particles of pulverized building materials and the fires that incinerated the debris thereby releasing any number of cancer-causing chemicals into the air.

A number of articles were published between August 2003 and late 2004 that documented the fact that babies born to mothers who were pregnant when the attacks occurred and who were in or near the collapsing towers or who lived in close proximity to the site were smaller and had lower birth weights.

On August 5, 2003, the Associated Press reported that:

“Exposed pregnant women in the study faced double the risk of delivering babies who were up to about a half-pound smaller than babies born to non-exposed women.The size differences among babies born to women exposed to dirt and soot from the attacks suggest a condition called intrauterine growth restriction, or IUGR, which has been linked with exposure to air pollution.

Previous research also has found that babies affected by IUGR may be at increased risk for heart disease, hypertension and other health problems in adulthood, said Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s community and preventive medicine department, and one of the researchers.

While duration of the exposure was relatively short, ’the intensity of exposure to soot and dust was extraordinarily high,’ Landrigan said.

The study appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.”

The CCCEH study has published extensive amounts of information on the subject including the following:

“The destruction of the World Trade Center (WTC) on September 11, 2001 was an unprecedented environmental disaster, with enduring effects on the physical and psychological well-being of a nation. In lower Manhattan, the event released large amounts of dust and toxic pollutants into the air, including fine particulate matter derived from the burning of materials during the explosion and fires, construction debris, and asbestos. These exposures are known to be especially toxic to the vulnerable populations of pregnant women and their unborn infants, and have been linked to reduced fetal growth and subsequent neurodevelopmental problems. Widespread psychological distress could also affect birth outcomes and subsequent child functioning.The Center’s study, launched in December 2001, is assessing the effects of prenatal exposure to contaminants released by the WTC destruction on gestational age, birth size, respiratory health, and neurocognitive development in 300 women who had term pregnancies. Thus far, study results show that babies born to women who were pregnant on 9/11 and lived near the WTC in the weeks after 9/11 were born lighter and shorter than were babies born to women living further away. Previous research shows that even small reductions in birth weight may lead to learning and behavioral problems.

The Center’s WTC Pregnancy Study is the only one of its kind to compare women with known exposure levels living and working close to the WTC site to a control group living and working further away from the site. The study is also unique in that pregnant women were enrolled prior to delivery, thereby eliminating participation bias that could arise from already knowing the outcome of their pregnancy.

Preliminary Findings

Results on birth size from the World Trade Center Study were published recently in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal (please click here to read the EHP paper):

  • Babies born to women who were living within 2 miles of the WTC in the month following 9/11/01 were on average 5 ounces lighter than babies born to women who lived further away.
  • Babies born to women who were living near the WTC in the month following 9/11 were on average 1/3 of an inch shorter at birth than babies born to women living further away.
  • All women were full term, however; women in their first 13 weeks of pregnancy on 9/11 (regardless of their distance from the WTC) had a shorter pregnancy by an average of 3.6 days compared to women who were in a later stage of pregnancy on 9/11. Babies born to mothers with shorter pregnancies had smaller head circumference than other babies.

Findings of decreased birth weight and length among full term infants of mothers who resided within 2 miles of the WTC site are potentially important for subsequent health and development. Lower birth weight, even within the normal range (>2500 g), is associated with increased fetal mortality, neonatal mortality, and infant mortality, subsequent poorer health, delayed physical and cognitive development, and increased susceptibility to stress in adulthood.”

Yesterday, The New York Post ran an “EXCLUSIVE” by Susan Edelman that did an excellent job of bringing the public up to date on the progress and most recent findings of the CCCEH study.

In that article, interviews with investigators and the director of CCCEH, Dr. Frederica Perera, revealed that, as feared, genetic damage to the children being studied has been greater than in the case of other city children.

In fact, a considerable number of the children (about 50%) have DNA profiles with “significant levels of combustion-related toxins” (NY Post).

These findings are a sign of genetic damage and present the possibility of developmental damage and an increased risk of cancer although no such conclusions have been made at this point.

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