First responders at Ground Zero on 9/11 are at greater risk of dementia than average Americans, two new studies suggest.
In addition to being vulnerable to certain cancers from exposure to toxic dust that cloud the air in the aftermath of the twin towers collapse, firefighters and paramedics can also be deprived of their memories.
Researchers from the World Trade Center Health and Wellness Program and Stony Brook University in New York saw the disrupted brain of MRIs from the brains of first responders as part of a study presented Tuesday at the Alzheimer’s International Conference.
A second study checked heroic workers’ blood for signs of the disease and found biomarkers consistent with Alzheimer’s disease and other psychiatric problems.
The research suggests that, nearly 20 years after the horrific attack changed the US, the men and women who risked their lives to help others will still be haunted physically and mentally – and likely to be for the rest of their lives.
Two studies from Stony Brook University found early signs of dementia in the brain and blood of emergency responders from 9/11, suggesting that the toxic fumes that covered the site of the World Trade Center attacks may put firefighters and paramedics at risk on amnesia (file)
After two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, 2,753 Americans were killed.
But the fatalities of the attacks did not stop when the dust settled or even when a new tower was built on the site of the tragedy.
Since 2011, approximately 10,000 people – primarily first responders – have developed cancers as a direct result of the toxic dust and vapors left in the air.
More than 2,000 additional people have died from diseases related to 9/11.
That is 72 percent more than those who died in the attack itself.
The unforgettable, dusty pink plume that covered much of New York City for weeks in the wake of the collapsed towers was full of toxins.
Even after the visible cloud disappeared, the toxins remained in the air for about five months.
First responders, of course, were hit by the heaviest amounts of those toxins, including asbestos, concrete and heavy metals, including lead, which were reduced to too fine a powder by the explosion to be blocked by protective wear.
It is now known that asbestos can cause cancer, including mesothelioma. It is one of dozens of cancers now linked to 9/11 by the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program.
Lead is toxic to the brain, an accepted fact that banned its use in paint in 1978 in the U.S.
But it is still used in construction, especially of long electric cables that must be flexible for use in skyscrapers such as the World Trade Center.
One of the studies was the first to use MRIs to look for brain mass loss in first responders. The researchers discovered that the ‘brain age’ of the subjects was about 10 years older than their chronological age (file)
Lead, asbestos and dioxin were just some of the toxins that were injected into the air from the explosions and collapse of the twin towers in 2001 (file)
And certain components are known to be small enough to reach the human brain after inhalation. Research suggests that there may be a link between higher daily air pollution and higher dementias, but it is not yet final.
Those working with 9/11 first responders have noticed a disturbing pattern.
“Listen, I run into it every day,” said first responder and activist John Feal the New York Daily News.
“People call us for help and their memory is a bit blurry or they don’t remember certain details.
“We know that cancer still kills people. Now let’s see if dementia rears its ugly head. ‘
Many of these first responders are well below age when dementia symptoms begin to appear.
Feal itself is 54. On average, dementia does not start until the age of 80. Early-onset dementia is loosely defined as amnesia that begins between the ages of 60 and 65. It can occur in people in their thirties, but it is a rare phenomenon.
Still, the Stony Brook study found that first responders’ brains were aged well beyond their chronological age.
According to gray matter loss, responders’ brains appeared to be about 10 years older than the average person their age. It is the first study of its kind among 9/11 first responders.
The second study looked at the blood content of 181 first responders, with an average age of 55.
They found higher-than-average biomarkers associated with both mild cognitive problems – an early warning sign of dementia – and, perhaps unsurprisingly, with post-traumatic disorders in the blood samples of the first responders.