A new study finds that almost a quarter of a sample of people exposed to toxic dust after the 9/11 attack in New York City still suffer from diminished lung capacity.
The rate of lung problems is about 2.5 times more than would be expected in people who smoke, according to co-author Dr. Jacqueline Moline, director of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program Clinical Center.
“These tests confirm what we’ve seen clinically: People are sick, they’re short of breath,” Moline said. “They used to run miles a day, now they can barely run the length of a football field.”
The study findings appear in the February issue of the journal Chest.
Experts estimate that about 40,000 people, including fire and rescue workers, were exposed to noxious pollution in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center.
Between 2004 and 2007, researchers gave breath tests to 3,160 9/11 workers and volunteers who had taken part in an earlier round of tests from 2002 to 2004.
About a quarter of those tested still have limited lung capacity and lung function, Moline said. “The most common finding we see is that people aren’t able to take in as deep of a breath as you’d expect, and some can’t push it out as much.”
The normal rate of lung capacity problems for a similar group of people would be five percent for non-smokers and 10 percent for smokers, she noted.
She said that researchers may never know what component of the toxic brew of 9/11 dust and smoke hurt the lungs of those who responded to the emergency.
Workers at the site reported cases of a signature “World Trade Center cough” and many said they suffered from such symptoms as itchy eyes and runny noses, even after the site cleanup ended in 2006.
The tragic effects of that one day in September 11,2001 is still being felt today. The final answer may not be apparent for many more years.
Research released in September by the New York City health department looked at a wide range of people exposed to the World Trade Center disaster, including nearby residents and commuters. Authors of that study estimated that more than 400,000 people were exposed to the disaster. An estimated 35,000 to 70,000 of them developed post-traumatic stress disorder, and 3,800 to 12,600 people developed asthma as a result.
Find out more about the health of people exposed to the 9/11 attack at the World Trade Center Health Registry.