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Lung ailments plague N.Y. firemen
MSNBC Staff and Wire Reports, December 21, 2001

   NEW YORK —  As many as 500 firefighters who worked at the World Trade Center site are on leave for respiratory problems and other rescue-related injuries, and a union leader warned Friday that the ailments could force many of them into retirement. ‘We won’t know for some time what the short- and long-term effects will be.’ — FRANCIS GRIBBON Fire Department
    THOMAS MANLEY, sergeant-at-arms for the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said Thursday that many who participated in rescue and recovery efforts are easily winded, suffer from a chronic cough, or have symptoms of asthma. The retirements could be another blow to a department that lost 343 firefighters in the trade center attack. "There’s a strong possibility that many of them may never be able to return to full duty," Manley said. A severe loss of lung capacity ends most careers, he added. "You can’t be fighting fires with asthma," he said.
    Fire Department spokesman Francis Gribbon said it is too early to predict the health implications for firefighters who have had respiratory symptoms. "We won’t know for some time what the short- and long-term effects will be," Gribbon said. "But we are being very aggressive in not only treating people but in tracking their progress."       

    Some have predicted that workers at ground zero might face lung, as well as other health, problems. Tom Barnett, a Manhattan police officer and a trustee of the city’s Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, told’s Your Environment column in September that many police, fire and other rescue workers went unprotected in the first few days after the catastrophe.
    Barnett, who was on the scene of the wreckage in the beginning, expressed fears then that many could develop illnesses as a result. "There were too many to count down there," said Barnett, who added, "No one was sick in the beginning of the Gulf War, but as time went on they developed illnesses. I can only imagine that the same thing could happen here." New York Department of Health’s Sandra Mullin also agreed workers who dug in around the fires in the charred carcass of the World Trade Center could have been placing themselves at risk. "It’s quite possible that workers could come down with coughing fits and longer term problems if they don’t follow the proper precautions."
    The Fire Department began health screenings for firefighters in late October, conducting lung function exams, chest X-rays, hearing tests and blood work. As many as 500 firefighters from the 11,100-member department are on leave for rescue-related injuries from the trade center, including about 300 who developed respiratory problems, union and city officials said. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 firefighters have filed notices to protect their right to sue the city over inadequate protection from dangerous materials at the trade center site.

Your Environment columnist Francesca Lyman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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