Volume 16, Number 11 | Aug. 12–Aug. 18, 2003


Moms question W.T.C. baby study findings

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Despite research showing a possible link between trade center toxins and lower baby birth weight, several Downtown mothers who participated in a recent study said last week that the preliminary results did not appear to describe them or their babies.

Mount Sinai School of Medicine tracked 182 women who were pregnant and in the vicinity of the World Trade Center on Sept.11, 2001, or within three weeks thereafter. In results released last week, researchers found that women who were exposed to dust from the trade center collapse were twice as likely as a control group to have babies who were slightly small for their gestational age, or for the amount of time they spent in the womb.

The W.T.C. babies weighed on average just more than two ounces less than those in the control group. The study found that 8.2 percent of the W.T.C. babies had smaller than expected birth weight compared with 3.8 percent for the control group. Trade center babies were no more likely than the control group to weigh less than 5.5 pounds, considered the threshold for low birth weight. The control group moms all delivered at Mount Sinai Medical Center on the Upper East Side and were not known to have been in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11.

Mothers interviewed for this article who participated in the study said they were concerned during their pregnancies about how their babies would be affected by their proximity to the trade center disaster. However, they said their babies were born at a normal weight and that they appeared to have average growth nearly two years later.

“He’s developmentally fine and quite honestly, most of the kids I know from the playground are fine, too,” said Polly Spadavecchia, who gave birth to a seven pound, 10 ounce baby on Nov. 3, 2001. Spadavecchia, 34, lived at Chambers and Reade Sts. at the time and now lives in Battery Park City.

Mothers who were close to their due dates on 9/11 said that they believed that their babies were unharmed because they were already fully formed. But Dr. Trudy Berkowitz, a professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a lead researcher of the study, said that fetuses at any stage of gestation could be affected by exposure to pollution. For example, Berkowitz said, studies have shown that women who stop smoking before their third trimesters were more likely to have normal weight babies than women who continued smoking until they delivered.

Participants speculated that mothers’ stress could have also played a role in the smaller birth weights of some 9/11 babies.

“I just think when you were pregnant, and you lived here, you were under such stress,” said Magdalena Hasiec, 30, a Battery Park City resident who gave birth to an eight pound girl on Sept. 27, 2001.

Berkowitz said that her team did try to measure the stress levels of mothers through questionnaires and saliva samples. Berkowitz said that she expected to see a connection between symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and premature birth, but preliminary findings indicated there was no such link.

But participating mothers wondered if some women’s anxiety, while not rising to the level of post-traumatic stress disorder, nonetheless played a role in their children’s lower birth weight. Berkowitz said that Mount Sinai researchers had not yet completed their stress analysis.

Another aspect of the research that has not been completed is the neurological studies of the babies after they were born, Berkowitz said. Linda Secondari-Black, 38, said that she took her son Luca, now 22 months, for visual tests at Mount Sinai when he was six months and nine months old.

Berkowitz said she could not predict exactly when the babies’ neurological study results would be published. If any irregularities are found during the data analysis, the results will be sent to the physician designated by participants on their consent forms, said Joan Golub, the research coordinator for the study. In keeping with standard protocol for clinical trials, no individual results will be sent directly to the participants, Golub said.

Dr. Michel Cohen, a popular Tribeca pediatrician, said that he did not notice low birth weights for gestational age among the 300 to 400 children under his care who were in utero on Sept. 11, 2001.

“That’s why I was very surprised to see that study, because I don’t have that trend in my practice,” Cohen said.

Cohen added that he had not read the entire study and would need to do so before he could comment on it fully.

Susan Curley, who was six months pregnant on 9/11, said that she would have preferred hearing the Mount Sinai findings from the researchers themselves, instead of from press accounts.

“If I had had a low birth-weight baby, I would have freaked out, because no one told me,” said Curley, 41, whose son, Carter, was about nine pounds at birth.

Golub said that Mount Sinai was barred from releasing the study results, even to participants, until they were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


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