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Mental Health Center

9/11 Lingers in Mind and Body

Health and psychological effects of 9/11 are still emerging and far-reaching.
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Debate Still Burning over Exposure Dangers

The extent of exposure to various elements following the collapse of the World Trade Center and subsequent fires is also a source of debate among officials and researchers and may play a large part in determining the actual health effects of 9/11 in the future.

"The air quality issues surrounding the first 24 hours after the attack were unprecedented," says Lioy. "The only thing that would come close would be a volcano eruption, but then you wouldn't have glass literally turning into very small fibers and building materials."

But a report issued last month from the Office of the Inspector General shows that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may have misled the public and local officials about the air quality in New York City following 9/11.

According to the report, the EPA made an announcement Sept. 18, 2001 that the air in the Ground Zero area was "safe" to breathe, but at that time the agency "did not have sufficient data and analyses to make such a blanket statement."

At that time, air-monitoring data for several pollutants of particular health concern was lacking, including information on PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which have been linked to cancer.

"I find that very frustrating as a physician and someone who was asked repeatedly if the air quality was safe," says Moline. "The fact that we may have given people advice based on flawed data, for me as a doctor, makes me sick.

"At this point, hopefully going forward they will be more transparent and actually tell people what they were measuring and not make overreaching statements," Moline tells WebMD. "Hopefully we will have a lesson learned from this."

Psychological Effects Near and Far

The screening program in New York has also revealed that about 20% of the workers and volunteers involved in World Trade Center recovery efforts caused some element of psychological impairment, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or symptoms related to them such as depression and anxiety.

Trauma researcher Roxone Cohen Silver, PhD, of the University of California, Irvine, says that in order for a person to be diagnosed with PTSD they would have to have been directly exposed to the traumatic event. But that doesn't mean that the psychological effects of a major national trauma are limited to people who live in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

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