Post-September 11, 2001, Incidence of Systemic Autoimmune Diseases in World Trade Center-Exposed Firefighters and Emergency Medical Service Workers

Mayo Clin Proc. 2016 Jan;91(1):23-32. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.09.019. Epub 2015 Dec 9.


Objective: To estimate the incidence of selected systemic autoimmune diseases (SAIDs) in approximately 14,000 male rescue/recovery workers enrolled in the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program and to compare FDNY incidence to rates from demographically similar men in the Rochester Epidemiology Project (REP), a population-based database in Olmsted County, Minnesota.

Patients and methods: We calculated incidence for specific SAIDs (rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and others) and combined SAIDs diagnosed from September 12, 2001, through September 11, 2014, and generated expected sex- and age-specific rates based on REP rates. Rates were stratified by level of WTC exposure (higher vs lower). Standardized incidence ratios (SIRs), which are the ratios of the observed number of cases in the FDNY group to the expected number of cases based on REP rates, and 95% CIs were calculated.

Results: We identified 97 SAID cases. Overall, FDNY rates were not significantly different from expected rates (SIR, 0.97; 95% CI, 0.77-1.21). However, the lower WTC exposure group had 9.9 fewer cases than expected, whereas the higher WTC exposure group had 7.7 excess cases.

Conclusion: Most studies indicate that the healthy worker effect reduces the association between exposure and outcome by about 20%, which we observed in the lower WTC exposure group. Overall rates masked differences in incidence by level of WTC exposure, especially because the higher WTC exposure group was relatively small. Continued surveillance for early detection of SAIDs in high WTC exposure populations is required to identify and treat exposure-related adverse effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid* / diagnosis
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid* / epidemiology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid* / etiology
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Firefighters / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic* / diagnosis
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic* / epidemiology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic* / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Minnesota / epidemiology
  • New York City
  • Occupational Exposure* / adverse effects
  • Occupational Exposure* / statistics & numerical data
  • Rescue Work / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Assessment
  • September 11 Terrorist Attacks / statistics & numerical data
  • Sex Factors