Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article|
High Rate of Respiratory
Symptoms in Police at World Trade Center Site
By Newswise, February 13, 2004
More than three-fourths of New York City
police officers responding to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade
Center developed a cough or other respiratory symptoms, reports a study in the February
Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American
College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).
Officers who arrived at the site before the towers collapsed were most likely to have
abnormal results on lung function testing, according to Dr. Steve H. Salzman and coauthors
of Beth Israel Medical Center.
After September 11, Dr. Salzman and colleagues offered respiratory health assessments to
members of New York Police Department's special Emergency Services Unit (ESU), one of the
first units to respond to the World Trade Center attack. Of 350 officers in the ESU, four
percent died when the towers collapsed. Two hundred forty officers were evaluated about
two months after the attacks, on average.
Overall, 77.5 percent of the officers developed respiratory symptoms, most commonly a
cough, after working at the World Trade Center site. By the time they were evaluated, the
symptoms had resolved in three-fourths of affected officers.
In the remaining one-fourth, respiratory symptoms persisted or got worse. None of the ESU
officers took medical leave from work because of their respiratory symptoms.
Even when symptoms were present, few of the officers had abnormalities on physical
examination, including chest x-rays. Twenty-nine percent had abnormal results on
spirometrya test of lung functionalthough the abnormalities were generally
Officers with previous respiratory disease or symptoms were more likely to have abnormal
spirometry results, as were those with more intense exposure to conditions at the World
Trade Center site. The abnormality rate was about 40 percent for ESU officers who arrived
before the first tower fell, compared with 25 percent for those who arrived after both
People near the World Trade Center site on or after September 11 were exposed to "a
complex mixture of particulates and gases" resulting from fire and the collapse of
the towers. A previous study found respiratory abnormalities in firefighters working at
the site, including a three percent rate of "WTC cough" severe enough to require
As was found in the study of firefighters, this study of police responders to the
September 11 attacks also finds a high rate of respiratory symptoms. The symptoms soon
resolved in most cases, although a substantial minority of officers still had symptoms
months later. Rates of lung function abnormalities appear highest for officers with the
most intense exposure: those who were at the site when the towers collapsed. Dr. Salzman
and colleagues emphasize the need for long-term follow-up of rescue workers and others
exposed to the World Trade Center site.
ACOEM, an international society of 6,000 occupational physicians and other healthcare
professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers,
workplaces, and environments.
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