Emergency Medical Services (EMS) workers who came to the rescue at the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, have some of the same chronic health problems that their colleagues in the police and fire departments do, a new study finds.
When tracked over 12 years following the attacks, EMS 9/11 responders were seven times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than EMS workers who didn't work that day. Responders were also twice as likely to have depression, according to the study.
EMS responders had nearly four times the risk of acid reflux and sinus infections compared to those who weren't at work on the day of the attack. And the risk of obstructive airway disease was more than doubled in EMS responders, the study found.
Moreover, those who arrived at the scene right after the attack were most at risk of these physical and psychological conditions, researchers said.
"Our study showed some of the health conditions among EMS workers who were deployed to the World Trade Center recovery site," said researcher Mayris Webber, who's with the NYC Fire Department's Bureau of Health Services. "Our findings are part of a pattern of adverse health outcomes found among those who were exposed to the disaster," she added.
EMS workers and other individuals who were exposed to the World Trade Center disaster remain at high risk of developing additional health problems, Webber said. "Over time, other health outcomes may emerge. Additional research is needed to better understand the link between the World Trade Center disaster and short- and long-term health consequences," she said.
However, because of the study's design, it's impossible to definitively prove a cause-and-effect relationship between these health conditions and the exposure on Sept. 11.
The report was published April 16 online in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine.
Between September 2001 to the end of December 2013, researchers collected data on the health of almost 2,300 New York City Fire Department EMS workers who were sent to the site of the World Trade Center attack.
Webber's team looked at both the mental and physical health conditions linked to the attack.
Over 12 years, the incidence of acid reflux disease (GERD) was just over 12 percent. The incidence of obstructive airway disease, which includes bronchitis and emphysema, was just under 12 percent, the researchers found.
In addition, sinus infections and cancer rates were about 11 percent and 3 percent, respectively.
Mental health screening found that 17 percent of the responders probably suffered from depression. Seven percent had PTSD and 3 percent had problems with alcohol, the researchers found.
The number of EMS workers who suffered from 9/11-related health problems was generally lower than that of firefighters, probably because they performed different tasks at the site, the researchers said.
Dr. Jacqueline Moline, chairwoman of population health at North Shore LIJ Health System in Manhasset, N.Y., called the new research the "first study that focuses on the EMS workers -- EMS needs not to be forgotten."
Although EMS workers had lower exposure to the toxic environment of the World Trade Center disaster, they still have increased rates of disease, she said.
"They should be followed and monitored, and we need to make sure we include EMS workers in our definition of first responders because they deserve follow-up care," Moline said.