Ground Zero crews show signs of stress disorder

Grand Rapid Press

NEW YORK — One in eight recovery and rescue workers who helped with the months-long cleanup at the World Trade Center showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a study has found.

Workers with little or no experience with disasters showed the highest frequency of PTSD, said the study, published recently in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The data come from the World Trade Center Health Registry's survey of 28,000 workers in 2003 and 2004.

The survey found that 12.4 percent of workers likely had PTSD, an anxiety disorder caused by traumatic events such as war, terrorism or assault. Nationally, about 4 percent of the population has PTSD, the report said.

Most likely to show signs of the disorder were volunteers unaffiliated with a service organization (21.2 percent) and construction and engineering workers (17.8 percent), the report said. Volunteers with an organization, at 7.2 percent, were far less likely to show symptoms.

Many volunteers lacked training, said one of the report's six authors, Dr. Lorna Thorpe, a New York City deputy commissioner of health. "This disorder was related to one's occupation and also the tasks one engaged in," she said. "Working at tasks one was not trained in was a major factor."

People who started working at Ground Zero soon after 9/11, or worked there for three months or longer, were more likely to have problems, the study said.

"This suggests that shift rotation would be able to reduce the risk," Thorpe said.

More than 12 percent of firefighters and 6.2 percent of police showed evidence of PTSD, the report said. The authors weren't sure why firefighters fared worse, but said it could be because police were less likely to admit problems or because police recruits undergo more screening.

The difference in 9/11's death toll among uniformed workers may also have been a factor, the authors said: The terrorist attacks killed 343 firefighters, 23 New York City police officers and 37 Port Authority police.  
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