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We observed that World Trade Center (WTC) exposure, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and depressive symptoms were associated with subjective cognitive concerns in Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) rescue/recovery workers. This follow-up study examined whether PTSD symptoms and/or depressive symptoms mediate the observed association between WTC exposure and subjective cognitive concerns. We included WTC-exposed FDNY workers who completed the Cognitive Function Instrument (CFI), measuring self-perceived cognitive decline (N = 9516). PTSD symptoms and depressive symptoms were assessed using the PCL-S and CES-D, respectively. Multivariable linear regression estimated the association between WTC exposure and CFI score, adjusting for confounders. Mediation analyses followed the methods of Vanderweele (2014). Participants’ average age at CFI assessment was 56.6 ± 7.6 years. Higher-intensity WTC exposure was associated with worse CFI score, an effect that was entirely mediated by PTSD symptoms (%mediated: 110.9%; 95%CI: 83.1–138.9). When substituting depressive symptoms for PTSD symptoms, the WTC exposure–CFI association was largely mediated (%mediated: 82.1%; 95%CI: 60.6–103.7). Our findings that PTSD symptoms and depressive symptoms mediate the association between WTC exposure and subjective cognitive concerns indicate that in the absence of these symptoms, WTC exposure in rescue/recovery workers would not be associated with subjective cognition. Interventions targeting PTSD and depression may have additional value in mitigating cognitive decline in WTC-exposed populations.


This work was originally published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, available at doi:10.3390/ijerph17165683

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (



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