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Nine Years After World Trade Attack Lung Problems Persist

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, April 09, 2010 1:12 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: 9/11, World Trade Center, Terrorists, Pneumonia, Lung Function, New England Journal of Medicine

Lung problems persist among the first responders to the World Trade Center, reports a newly published study.

Lung Function Fell


IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia commons/ Ground Zero/ Library of Congress

A study of nearly 13,000 rescue workers who responded to the September 11th attacks in 2001, has found a reduction in the lung function that did not improve over the next seven years.

The study by Dr. David Prezant, with the Office of Medical Affairs at the New York City Fire Department, is the first to chronicle how the long-term health of firefighters and emergency medical service (EMS) workers has been impacted since the World Trade Center attacks in New York City.

New England Journal of Medicine

The report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that the dust left “a substantial portion of workers with abnormal lung function.”

Thirteen percent of firefighters and 22 percent of EMS workers were left with lung function that is below normal for their age. Firefighters may have been in better shape to begin with which may explain the disparity.

One year after 9/11, the average drop in lung function equaled up to a dozen years of aging, the report says. Impaired lung function can reduce physical fitness and make it difficult to recover from pneumonia and surgery.

And the decline is persistent, which demonstrates a need to continually monitor the workers and seek aggressive treatment, say researchers.

More than 91% of the 14,000 firefighters and EMS personnel who worked at ground zero for two weeks after the attack were included in the study. Lung function tests were taken every 12 to18 months from March 2000 to September 2008, reports the New York Times.

The terrorist attack killed 2,751 people including 343 rescue workers and exposed thousands to two million tons of dust that circulated the air and first responders would breathe in for the next two weeks.  Included in the dust - glass and cement particles, asbestos and insulation fibers, as well as toxic chemicals which can inflame the airways and lungs.

This latest report echoes a 2009 report that finds there are 17,000 to 40,000 new cases in asthma among those who were exposed Sept. 11.

Persistent Symptoms

The researchers find 30 to 40 percent of workers or 5,000 individuals have persistent symptoms including sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, or sinus drip.

About 1,000 have permanent respiratory disability caused by chronic bronchitis or asthma, conditions that can end a firefighting career.

Workers at the time of the attack received assurances about the quality of the air from New York City health officials, Mayor Giuliani, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Christine Todd Whitman, that, “The good news continues to be that air samples we have taken have all been at levels that cause no concern.”

Lawsuits Persist

Attorney Marc Bern of Napoli Bern (IB partner) which represents about 9,000 plaintiffs, says the study shows the health effects are permanent. Dr. Prezant takes exception with that. He believes some may still respond to therapy.

Last month, about 10,000 plaintiffs finally reached a settlement of $657.5 million with the city over their illnesses.

Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of US District Court in Manhattan in March rejected the settlement saying it would give lawyers too much and plaintiffs to little. The issue will be heard in a Monday hearing. #

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