Heroes of Ground Zero pay price with their health


Lung damage suffered by fire fighters who attended the World Trade Center attacks seems to be getting worse, says a new study

NEW YORK CITY rescuers who responded so bravely in the days after the World Trade Center attacks have suffered significant long-term lung damage that seems to get worse over time, according to a new study.

The research, published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, provides the most comprehensive analysis yet of the impact of the noxious dust and smoke that blanketed south Manhattan after the September 2001 attacks.

The study included lung function tests on almost 13,000 Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) firefighters and emergency workers. This represented 92 per cent of all those present at the World Trade Center site between September 11th and 14th.

The collapse of the buildings raised a thick fog of dust before the addition of dense, noxious smoke from the fires that raged for months under the rubble.

“This exposure at Ground Zero was so unique that no one could have predicted the impact on lung function,” said David Prezant, professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and lead author of the study.

Previous studies have shown that the effects of firefighting on lung function “are mild and reversible”, the authors point out. This was not the case for the 9/11 crews who struggled for days to pull survivors from the twisted steel and concrete wreckage.

The researchers tracked lung function over the years to September 2008. “We demonstrated dramatic decline in lung function, mostly in the first six months after 9/11, and these declines persisted with little or no meaningful recovery of lung function among FDNY rescue workers over the next six and a half years,” said Prezant. An earlier study by Prezant in the first 12 months after the attacks showed that rescue workers experienced more than 12 times the decline in lung function than would have been expected from normal aging.

Those most affected were the workers who arrived at the World Trade Center site on the morning of 9/11 when the dust cloud was at its most intense, the authors say.

The numbers affected by reduced lung function increased over time, the authors found. The figure stood at 3 per cent of firefighters a year after the attack, but this had increased to 18 per cent by the end of their study.

Similarly, about 12 per cent of emergency medical workers had reductions in lung function 12 months after the attacks but this rose to 22 per cent by 2008.