New Study Links Paresthesia to World Trade Center Exposures

Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

Paresthesia, a burning or prickling sensation usually felt in the hands, arms, legs, or feet, can be the result of exposure to neurotoxins.

In a newly published study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers analyzed data from community members exposed to toxins in the in the World Trade Center (WTC) attacks of September 11, 2001, to evaluate whether that exposure was associated with paresthesias.

The researchers analyzed data from 3,141 patients of the WTC Environmental Health Center. Fifty-six percent of patients reported paresthesias when they enrolled 7 to 15 years following the WTC attacks. After controlling for potential confounders, the researchers found that paresthesias were associated with severity of exposure to the WTC dust cloud and working in a job requiring cleaning of WTC dust.

National law firm Parker Waichman notes that WTC exposures have been linked to a wide range of health problems, including prostate and other cancers, and lung and gastrointestinal diseases. In August 2016, health officials reported that more than 5,400 September 11 first responders and others who lived, worked, or attended school near Ground Zero have developed 9/11-linked cancers. The cancer tally tripled in two and a half years, up from 1,822 cancer cases in January 2014.

This study results suggest that paresthesias were commonly associated with WTC-related exposures or post-WTC cleanup and recovery work. Further studies should objectively characterize these paresthesias and seek to identify relevant neurotoxins or activities paresthesia-inducing activities.


Paresthesia refers to a burning or prickling sensation that is usually felt in the hands, arms, legs, or feet, but can also occur in other parts of the body. The sensation, which can happen without warning, is usually painless and is described as tingling or numbness, skin crawling, or itching, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Most people have experienced temporary paresthesia—”pins and needles”—at some time in their lives, for instance after sitting with legs crossed for too long, or falling asleep with an arm crooked under the head. Temporary paresthesia happens when sustained pressure is placed on a nerve. The feeling quickly goes away once the pressure is relieved.

Chronic paresthesia is often a symptom of an underlying neurological disease or traumatic nerve damage. Paresthesia can be caused by disorders affecting the central nervous system, such as stroke and transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes), multiple sclerosis, transverse myelitis, and encephalitis. A tumor or lesion pressed against the brain or spinal cord can also cause paresthesia. Nerve entrapment syndromes, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, can damage peripheral nerves and cause paresthesia accompanied by pain, NINDS explains. Diagnosis is based on determining the underlying condition causing the paresthesia.

WTC Toxic Exposure

The dust and debris over lower Manhattan after the collapse of the Twin Towers was a mix of compounds, including asbestos; pulverized cement; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); benzene; dioxin; glass fibers; gypsum; jet fuel; heavy metals (including lead); irritants; toxins; and carcinogens. Many first responders, rescue and recovery workers, area residents and those who worked or went to school in the area were exposed to these toxins. Thousands have been diagnosed with illnesses, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); and mental health issues, including depression and anxiety disorder associated with the trauma of the attacks.

Some people became ill soon after the attacks. But many health problems, in particular cancers, do not emerge until years after exposure. In some cases, health problems that began on or soon after 9/11 became worse over time. An individual’s 9/11 health problems can have an impact on other conditions and on the individual’s overall health. The WTC health program set up under the federal under the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act provides monitoring and testing that can help people catch problems early.

The JOEM study suggests that paresthesias were commonly associated with WTC-related exposures or work in the post-WTC cleaning and recovery work. Further studies are needed to objectively characterize these paresthesias and identify the neurotoxins or activities that could induce paresthesias.

Legal Help for Those Suffering 9/11-Related Paresthesia

The attorneys at Parker Waichman have worked with and for 9/11 victims through the years since the 2001 attacks. If you or someone you know suffers paresthesia, cancer or other illness linked to 9/11 toxic exposures, please contact Parker Waichman LLP for an evaluation of your situation. To reach the firm, fill out the online contact form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).