Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Asthma, Ground Zero linked: A study of 205 children who have the illness and lived near the World Trade Center says their condition was worsened by the 9/11 attack
By Roni Rabin, Newsday Staff Writer, March 9, 2004

Children with asthma who lived within five miles of the World Trade Center had more severe illness after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, seeing the doctor more often and taking more medication the year after the attack than the year before, researchers found. There were no significant differences in care for asthmatic children farther away.

The retrospective study of 205 Chinese-American children who received medical care at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in Chinatown, about 1.5 miles from the World Trade Center, was published today in the peer-reviewed Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The review of patient charts was carried out by physicians at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, a University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health epidemiologist and Wang Center doctors.

"Air pollution has been linked to asthma exacerbation, so we expected these data to show the children were worse," said author Dr. Anthony Szema of Stony Brook. "But until we did the study, we weren't able to show they were worse."

Szema said he will seek funding to continue studying the long-term health implications.

The number of pediatric asthma-related visits to the Wang clinic increased from 1,044 visits by 306 patients the year before the attacks to 1,554 visits by 501 patients the year after, the study said.

Among the 205 asthmatic children whose records were reviewed, researchers found an increase in the number of doctor visits, from 3.79 per child the year before Sept. 11, 2001, to 4.69 the year afterward. The number of prescriptions increased from two per child to 2.3.

For children living within five miles of the World Trade Center, clinic visits increased from 3.95 before the attack to 5.1 after. Some patients lived just blocks from Ground Zero, Szema said.

In addition, during the first three months after 9/11, the asthmatic children living within five miles of Ground Zero experienced a decline in what is called the peak expiratory flow rate, the ability to blow out air after taking a deep breath.

The rate is a measure of airway obstruction that is a gauge of asthma severity. A decrease in the number indicates the airways are narrowed, Szema said.

While the peak flow rates for the children studied had been within normal limits prior to 9/11, the mean rate dropped during the first three months after the attacks.

"These findings support our hypothesis that asthma severity worsened in the months after Sept., 11 2001," the authors wrote.

After the attacks, dust and fumes in lower Manhattan included fine particulate matter as well as calcium sulfate and calcium carbonate, which irritate the upper airways.

Many emergency workers developed chronic respiratory disease.

Copyright 2004, Newsday, Inc.

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