3 Long-Term Health Effects of 9/11 Exposure

By  //  January 9, 2022

It’s now over 20 years since the terrorist attack in New York, Washington D.C, and Pennsylvania took place, which led to the death of nearly 3,000 people. Since then, tens of thousands of 9/11 attack survivors and responders who are exposed to toxic dust, poisonous chemicals, and dangerous fumes have developed illnesses related to ground zero exposures.

People who worked at the site of the attack, especially at ground zero, have become ill, and more than 4,600 responders have lost their lives. The incident led to the formation of the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program to offer medical treatment and close monitoring of the affected population besides being funded by the WTC Victim Fund and others.

WTC Health Program Trusted Source linked ground zero exposure with illnesses, injuries, cancer, and post-traumatic conditions. The most common conditions observed are cancer, asthma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression.

This article would identify the long-term effects of 9/11 exposure.

1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

After any traumatic event, people experience intense emotional and physical reactions. This condition is what’s termed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The 2020 study by WTC found out that 9.5% of the first responders examined showed PTSD symptoms. 

PTSD symptoms include lack of sleep, being easily frightened, experiencing vivid flashbacks, anxiety, aggressive behavior, and being always on guard for danger. These symptoms were experienced by the affected population, impacting mental health.

Twenty years down the line now, they’re still unable to forget the images, and many of the responders who’ve retired from work face a difficult life transition that has led to a greater mental health decline.

2. Exposure To Toxic Dust

The collapse of the Twin Towers at the WTC created a cloud of toxic dust. It consisted of crushed concrete, asbestos, and organic pollutants from fuel combustion. The WTC dust plume also contained lead and mercury, which are harmful to the brain and body. It also contained traces of cadmium, which is toxic to human kidneys.

When this dust is inhaled, finer particles travel directly to the brain, and many responders who were exposed developed a severe cough that lasted for a few weeks.

From the acute health problems faced by the responders, sooner than they expected, they started experiencing chronic symptoms of respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and chronic rhinosinusitis, among other upper airway diseases.

3. Higher Chances Of Cancer Rates 

Furthermore, about eight years after the tragedy, cancer develops in 9/11 survivors. The study shows that the most prevalent types of cancers include:

4. Blood Cancer (Leukemia)

This cancer type affects the human blood caused when exposed to carcinogens. It was evaluated that leukemia increased by 41% among the affected population.

5. Lung Cancer

Moreover, the first respondents have an increased risk of developing lung-related diseases. The smoke from fuel combustion, WTC dust, and toxic chemicals released might have caused lung diseases. 

However, researchers were surprised that the cancer prevalence rate among the survivors was lower than it would be with the general population. This might have been due to lung cancer taking too long to show its symptoms. 

6. Prostate Cancer

Older men are prone to prostate cancer. A 2019 study showed that some first responders had developed an aggressive, fast-growing form of prostate cancer. It’s concluded that inhaling the WTC dust may have caused inflammatory of T-cells in some of the 9/11 workers. This may have led to a painful burning sensation while urinating and eventually to prostate cancer.

The inflammation of T-cells may also have a higher potential of causing breast cancer. 


Research work done by WTC Health Program has played a vital role in identifying WTC –related long-term health conditions. But some experts have argued that the agencies involved weren’t well prepared to take up the task to provide effective methods of monitoring long-term exposures and to offer better resources to minimize exposure during the recovery process. 

It’s two decades after the 9/11 attack, yet the researchers are still trying to uncover the health conditions. Nearly 50% of the living responders have respiratory or digestive conditions. 16% of the same population have developed cancer, while another 16% have developed a mental health condition. 

Finally, in such cases for cancer patients, they need regular screening for early treatments. For the case of mental health patients, counseling can be done to help them survive through the vivid flashbacks of the attack. You can lower the overall risk of WTC health effects by doing so.

While the long-term health effects of 9/11 exposure are detrimental, there are still things that could be done.