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Catch-all PTSD DiagnosisMay Again Shortchange 9-11 Responders

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Message Vin LoPresti

Wading through viscous smoke and choking, lung-clogging dust, a perverted bouillabaisse of well-established toxic chemicals seeping into their lungs, stomach, skin, eyes, hair follicles; the horrific toxic exposure of 9-11 rescue and cleanup workers is, by now, fairly well known. What remains largely unrevealed is the inadequacy, even, yes, the scientifically amateurish quality, of the of the diagnostic medical response. Scientists and physicians have witnessed a situation in which the quantity and diversity of toxic chemicals inhaled or absorbed by those working on the debris piles at the World Trade Center and at the Fresh Kills, Staten Island, landfill cause health effects that challenge their current knowledge. These are chemical substances that are rated not only as potential carcinogens, but also as having toxic effects on the nervous, immune, and hormonal (endocrine) systems. These effects are additional to their obvious toxicity to lungs. The most recent iteration of lung disorders, noted almost seven years after the attacks on the World Trade Center, are ongoing high rates of asthma among those working on “the pile.”

Even though nervous system, hormonal, and immune function effects are clearly noted for many of these toxins -- and no one really knows what they are capable of causing when combined, possibly synergistically -- remarkably, the best the City of New York can manage in following-up on non-respiratory health effects is to issue a report on high rates of PTSD (Post traumatic Stress Disorder). Or, in other words, it’s all in their heads. This assessment was culled from data in the World Trade Center Health Registry, a collection of self-reported symptoms from some 30,000 9-11 rescue and recovery workers. The respondents were mainly police officers, firefighters, clergy and construction workers.

The report published in the 8-30-07, ( and elsewhere ( quotes city medical personnel presenting a diversity of hypotheses to explain the observed rates of mental health problems. All are based on an assumption of PTSD. For example: “People who started work on or soon after 9/11, or who worked for longer periods, were also more vulnerable to PTSD. For all occupations except police, the risk of PTSD was greatest among those who worked at the site for more than three months. The finding suggests that shortening work periods, and limiting exposure of those who have less prior exposure to trauma, might help reduce PTSD rates in future emergencies.”

Alternatively, and quite obviously, this finding could just as easily suggest that those who worked on or close to 9-11 were exposed to the toxic cloud of volatilized gases, containing such known neuro- and immunotoxins as PCBs, mercury and lead, in a gaseous form that could easily enter the body in a myriad of ways. The cloud was more pronounced over the first month or two as fires volatilized toxins, and later, as the fires gradually dissipated, became less of a factor. Naturally, those who worked for longer periods would have also suffered more exposure. Moreover, some of the fat-soluble toxins in that cloud are known to have quite long residency times in the body. To ignore these facts and toxin-exposure-based explanations borders on the absurd.

What’s not made at all clear is that the entire approach is quite possibly flawed: it completely ignores the possibility, indeed the probability, that at least some, if not a significant portion of the psychological issues facing these individuals may have derived from direct toxin effects on nervous, hormonal and immune systems. The experience of a subpopulation of workers who reported significant mental-health and sleep benefits subsequent to detoxification supports this possibility. In other words, it is quite conceivable that the PTSD diagnosis may merely represent a convenient catch-all allowing treatment of symptoms with popular anti-depressants and other neuroactive drugs. If so, the system will be failing these men and women in the worst way possible, by misdiagnosing, then following up with inappropriate treatment that might mask symptoms but do little to address root causes of illness. Only the profit margin of drug companies really benefits from a medical practice of blanket-diagnoses, as physicians pile on layers of anti-symptomatic psychoactive drugs, pouring more chemicals into a brain and nervous system that may already have been poisoned by some rather toxic chemicals.

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VinyL is a molecular biologist who's passion is the philsophical and pragmatic expansion of the US healthcare system away from its insane addiction to physician-lock, reductionistic, simpleminded drug therapy toward a more-global view based on (more...)
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