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Study: Dementia risk high for 9/11 responders exposed to WTC toxins

Responders with PPE had a dementia rate of 5-6 per 1,000, while those without PPE in high-risk activities, like searching Ground Zero, had a rate of 42.36 per 1,000, the study found


Photo/9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

By Sarah Roebuck

NEW YORK — New research reveals that World Trade Center (WTC) responders from 9/11 and its aftermath face declining brain health compared to those not exposed to WTC toxins, according to a study by Stony Brook University researchers.

The study, which evaluated over 5,000 WTC responders, shows that those with higher exposure to WTC-related toxins are more likely to develop dementia than their peers with less exposure.

Published in JAMA Network Open, the study focused on patients from the Stony Brook WTC Health and Wellness Program from November 2014 to January 2023 to assess signs of dementia. The average age of participants at the start of the study was 53 years old.

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According to lead author Sean Clouston, a professor at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine, the study focused on a large sample of 9/11 responders to determine if there is a link between their occupational exposures during the WTC disaster and the incidence of dementia before age 65.

The research team found that 228 responders, who were under 60 and dementia-free at the start of the study, developed dementia over the next five years. This represents 4.6% of the responders in the study. Clouston and his colleagues stated that, in comparison, the incidence of dementia over five years in the general population under 60 is only about 0.5%.

Clouston said that among responders with no dust exposure or those who wore PPE, about five to six per 1,000 developed dementia each year. In contrast, responders without PPE who engaged in high-risk activities like digging through Ground Zero debris had a much higher incidence rate, with 42.36 per 1,000 developing dementia annually.

“This rate of dementia in those reporting many exposures and limited protection is not only statistically significant, it is alarming for a patient cohort that clearly shows a strong association between exposure and the incidence of dementia under the age of 65,” Clouston said. “Also, the rates remained statistically significant over the less exposed group even after adjusting for social, medical, and demographic factors.”

All study participants were assessed for dementia by professionals at the Stony Brook WTC Health and Wellness Program at the study’s start and at regular intervals, with key evaluations every 18 months.

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