• Article

Asthma and posttraumatic stress symptoms 5 to 6 years following exposure to the World Trade Center terrorist attack


Brackbill, R. M., Hadler, J. L., DiGrande, L., Ekenga, C. C., Farfel, M. R., Friedman, S., ... Thorpe, L. E. (2009). Asthma and posttraumatic stress symptoms 5 to 6 years following exposure to the World Trade Center terrorist attack. JAMA, 302(5), 502-516. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2009.1121


CONTEXT: The World Trade Center Health Registry provides a unique opportunity to examine long-term health effects of a large-scale disaster.

OBJECTIVE: To examine risk factors for new asthma diagnoses and event-related posttraumatic stress (PTS) symptoms among exposed adults 5 to 6 years following exposure to the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center (WTC) terrorist attack.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Longitudinal cohort study with wave 1 (W1) enrollment of 71,437 adults in 2003-2004, including rescue/recovery worker, lower Manhattan resident, lower Manhattan office worker, and passersby eligibility groups; 46,322 adults (68%) completed the wave 2 (W2) survey in 2006-2007.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Self-reported diagnosed asthma following September 11; event-related current PTS symptoms indicative of probable posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), assessed using the PTSD Checklist (cutoff score > or = 44).

RESULTS: Of W2 participants with no stated asthma history, 10.2% (95% confidence interval [CI], 9.9%-10.5%) reported new asthma diagnoses postevent. Intense dust cloud exposure on September 11 was a major contributor to new asthma diagnoses for all eligibility groups: for example, 19.1% vs 9.6% in those without exposure among rescue/recovery workers (adjusted odds ratio, 1.5 [95% CI, 1.4-1.7]). Asthma risk was highest among rescue/recovery workers on the WTC pile on September 11 (20.5% [95% CI, 19.0%-22.0%]). Persistent risks included working longer at the WTC site, not evacuating homes, and experiencing a heavy layer of dust in home or office. Of participants with no PTSD history, 23.8% (95% CI, 23.4%-24.2%) reported PTS symptoms at either W1 (14.3%) or W2 (19.1%). Nearly 10% (9.6% [95% CI, 9.3%-9.8%]) had PTS symptoms at both surveys, 4.7% (95% CI, 4.5%-4.9%) had PTS symptoms at W1 only, and 9.5% (95% CI, 9.3%-9.8%) had PTS symptoms at W2 only. At W2, passersby had the highest rate of PTS symptoms (23.2% [95% CI, 21.4%-25.0%]). Event-related loss of spouse or job was associated with PTS symptoms at W2.

CONCLUSION: Acute and prolonged exposures were both associated with a large burden of asthma and PTS symptoms 5 to 6 years after the September 11 WTC attack.