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Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/01.jom.0000158722.57980.4a
Original Articles

Rethinking First Response: Effects of the Clean Up and Recovery Effort on Workers at the World Trade Center Disaster Site

Johnson, Sara B. MPH; Langlieb, Alan M. MD, MPH, MBA; Teret, Stephen P. JD, MPH; Gross, Raz MD, MPH; Schwab, Margo PhD; Massa, Jennifer; Ashwell, Leslie BsC; Geyh, Alison S. PhD

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Abstract

Objective: We sought to describe the physical and mental health effects of the cleanup and recovery effort on workers at the World Trade Center disaster site.

Methods: A mailed survey was sent to truck drivers, heavy equipment operators, laborers, and carpenters. It assessed work-related exposures and somatic and mental health symptoms. In one open-ended question, respondents shared any aspect of their experiences they wished; these 332 narrative responses were analyzed using qualitative techniques.

Results: Respondents reported suffering debilitating consequences of their work, including depression, drug use, and posttraumatic stress disorder. They felt poorly prepared to work in a disaster, lacked protective equipment and training, and felt overwhelmed by the devastation they faced.

Conclusions: These workers’ experiences were qualitatively similar to the experiences of the first responders. To protect workers in the future, the focus on preparing “first” responders should be reconsidered more broadly.

©2005The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

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