Dust From 9/11 May Have Led to a Lot of Complicated Pregnancies and Premature Births

Photo: Jerry Arcieri/Corbis

Researchers have been trying to unravel the full extent of the health effects of the September 11 terrorist attacks ever since they occurred. The collapse of the skyscrapers released all sorts of toxic dust into the air, and figuring out exactly how this has affected people who were in Lower Manhattan on 9/11 and in the days that followed has been an ongoing challenge. New research from Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, adds one piece to the puzzle: The dust may have led to a lot of pregnancy complications, premature births, and visits to neonatal intensive-care units.

The press release:

Pregnant women living near the World Trade Center... were more likely to give birth prematurely and deliver babies with low birth weights. Their babies — especially baby boys — were also more likely to be admitted to neonatal intensive care units after birth. The study, led by the Wilson School's Janet Currie and Hannes Schwandt, was released by the National Bureau of Labor Economics in August.

"Previous research into the health impacts of in utero exposure to the 9/11 dust cloud on birth outcomes has shown little evidence of consistent effects. This is a puzzle given that 9/11 was one of the worst environmental catastrophes to have ever befallen New York City," said Currie, Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, director of the economics department and director of the Wilson School's Center for Health and Wellbeing. "Our work suggests a simple resolution of this puzzle, which is that the women who lived in neighborhoods exposed to the 9/11 dust cloud had very different experiences than women in other parts of New York City."


Using data on all births that were in utero on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City and comparing those babies to their siblings, the researchers found that, for mothers in their first trimester during 9/11, exposure to this catastrophe more than doubled their chances of delivering a baby prematurely. Of the babies born, boys were more likely to have birth complications and very low birth weights. They were also more likely to be admitted to the NICU.

It's somewhat depressing that almost a decade and a half after 9/11, we still don't have a full grasp on all the damage it did.