Residual 9/11 Air Pollution Linked to Smaller Newborns
Residual 9/11 Air Pollution Linked to Smaller Newborns

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 set forth a cloud of hazardous materials as the twin towers fell and enveloped the surrounding area leaving a coat of dust on everything and everyone for days. Fifteen years have passed since the collapse of the towers in New York City and researchers are still learning how this impacted the health of people in the area.

Study of Newborns Affected by 9/11 Dust Cloud

A new study has revealed that those dust clouds most likely contributed to negative birth outcomes for some Lower Manhattan mothers. The recent study adds to previous research showing that exposure to air pollution in the womb can have adverse health effects on infants, and those significant effects can manifest and continue over the course of a lifetime, according to National Geographic.

Personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP are reviewing potential lawsuits on behalf of individuals who are seeking legal information and advice on Ground Zero air pollution and possible effects on newborns. Parker Waichman law firm offers free, no-obligation case evaluations.

The researchers, Hannes Schwandt and Janet Currie, examined New York City birth records from 1994 to 2004. The study was published in the 2016 fall issue of the Journal of Human Resources. Of those 1.2 million births, they isolated data from women who lived in Lower Manhattan and so were the most exposed to the dust cloud. The team then narrowed down their search for women who had previously had babies, to better determine if the low birth weights were an exception.

The result was that women who were in their first trimester during 9/11 had more than double the probability of premature delivery. In addition, there was an increase in the number of babies with low birth weights, which may lead to issues later such as an increased risk for diabetes, elevated blood pressure, and heart disease, National Geographic reports.

“The pregnancy conditions really matter for later economic outcomes and for long-term human development and economic success,” says Schwandt, an economist at the University of Zurich. Aside from their health risks, low birth-weight, babies tend to earn less money throughout their lives.

Not Healthy, but Wealthy

An additional factor for the 9/11 mothers may be post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which, similar to air pollution, has been linked to low birth weights. However, after comparing stress levels across the city, the researchers could rule out PTSD as a deciding factor for the births in their study. Rather, they are convinced that the dust cloud was the primary culprit.

This study’s findings are surprising because many of the affected women lived in affluent neighborhoods that are typically predisposed to better birth outcomes. In the United States, low birth weights and pollution tend to occur in poorer communities, reports National Geographic.

“In this case, we have these relatively wealthy mothers who then are affected, and we see that the magnitude of the effect is similar to the difference between an advantaged and a disadvantaged mother,” says Schwandt. “So, we could think of it like the advantaged mother that was exposed to the dust cloud in southern Manhattan had a similar birth outcome as a disadvantaged mother who has not been exposed.”

Former studies examining 9/11 babies had shown little evidence of such effects. But those studies got data from specific hospitals or from all over the city, including poorer and more polluted neighborhoods, such as the South Bronx, Schwandt says. Because the rates of prematurity are so high in some areas of New York City, that changed the data sets. Combined, the numbers are comparable to what you would see in less advantaged nations.

Pollution – A Global Problem

This study has significance for cities around the globe that struggle with polluted air, such as Mexico City, New Delhi, and Beijing. Most other research done on air pollution’s effects on birth outcomes, are examined experiences happening over long periods of time. However, the 9/11 attacks happened in a contained time and space, thereby allowing researchers to get a better understanding of the effects of the resulting pollution. Actually, this was the closest to a controlled environment as they could expect to get. The 9/11 dust cloud simplified the variables as well as magnified the change, according to National Geographic.

A similar study was done in Beijing when the city attempted to clean its notoriously polluted air prior to and during the 2008 Olympics. A researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, Tracey Woodruff, co-author of a study said, “In Beijing, the air pollution levels went down during the Olympics and then came back up, because they relaxed all the controls they had in place.”

The Beijing study found that babies who were developing during the period of cleaner air were about 23 grams heavier than babies born during the same time period the year before, when the air had more pollution, Nation Geographic reports.

Residual 9/11 Air Pollution Linked to Smaller Newborns
Residual 9/11 Air Pollution Linked to Smaller Newborns

To date, Schwandt and Currie have no plans to follow through and see how the health and economic fates of the 9/11 babies have fared now that they are adolescents. But they say their work “stands on its own as a tool to exemplify the problems of air pollution exposure.”

“That’s the whole reason why this kind of disaster research is useful in a sense, not because this is something that is very representative in general but because it allows you to identify the effects of pollution,” says Schwandt. “It’s like switch on, switch off.”

Legal Information for Residents Near Ground Zero

Parker Waichman LLP has years of experience representing clients in personal injury lawsuits. If you or someone you know has been affected by air pollution from the 9/11 dust cloud, we urge you to contact Parker Waichman personal injury lawyers at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).