Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

CDC Study: WTC workers developed long-term breathing problems
By Daniel Yee, Associated Press | September 9, 2004

ATLANTA --Workers at the World Trade Center site developed respiratory problems that lasted more than a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- much longer than health officials had anticipated, according to a government study released Thursday.

Nearly three years later, many of the people who helped with cleanup and recovery efforts at ground zero still have breathing problems associated with their exposure to the site, said Dr. Stephen Levin, associate professor of community and preventive medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical School in New York, which assisted in the study.

Those problems include asthma, sinusitis, constant coughing and stuffy nose, facial pains, chest tightness, wheezing and shortness of breath.

The study is the first to show that workers at the World Trade Center site suffered respiratory symptoms over such a long period, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

"It's not a surprise that people experienced upper airway and lower airway problems when they were at the site -- they were exposed to dust and combustions from fires. What was striking was how long these symptoms persisted," Levin said.

Previously, health officials believed the respiratory symptoms would have lasted only a few days to a few weeks after being exposed to conditions at the site.

For the study, CDC and New York health officials analyzed data from 1,138 of the rescue workers between July and December 2002. Nearly three out of four of the workers reported upper respiratory symptoms that were newly developed or made worse by working at ground zero, and three out of five reported lower respiratory symptoms associated with their work at the site.

The study's findings are similar to those found among New York firefighters, nearly 400 of whom had to be permanently placed on medical leave because of respiratory problems developed after the Sept. 11 attacks, said Dr. William Rom, professor of medicine and environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.

Many of the workers in the CDC study also developed symptoms of mental health problems.

Screening tests revealed that one in five of male workers in the study had post-traumatic stress disorder, a rate four times higher than the rate found among men in the general U.S. population. About 6 percent of workers developed panic and anxiety symptoms.

"This was a catastrophic event and the repetition of the collapse on all the news channels ... amplified the feeling of grief and loss," Rom said.

Proper respiratory gear would have allowed the workers to block out smoldering fires, dust, diesel exhaust, pulverized cement, glass fibers, asbestos and other chemicals in order to prevent developing throat and lung diseases, Levin said. The study found that only about one in five of the workers wore respirators while they worked at the site.

Rapid screening of workers at ground zero would have given health officials the chance to identify problems and provide immediate care for workers, Levin said.
On The Net
CDC study on physical health of WTC workers:
CDC study on mental health of WTC workers:

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