Researchers say they have irrefutable evidence that smoke and dust from the World Trade Center terrorist attacks permanently damaged the health of first responders. NY1's Health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
A new report from the New York City Fire Department's World Trade Center Monitoring and Treatment Program has found that exposure to dust lead to large declines in lung function for thousands of firefighters and emergency medical service workers within a year of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Furthermore, such declines in lung function never reversed over the following seven years.
The study is valuable in helping to assess the long-term health impacts of the World Trade Center attack, because firefighters and EMS workers were the most exposed groups. As both types of responders need a clean bill of health to be on the job, they also have health records from before September 11, 2001 that can be used as a baseline.
"Typically after a regular house fire, you have a return of lung function to normal levels in days or weeks. Very rare do you see something that is permanent," said Dr. David Prezant, a FDNY chief medical officer. "Here we see a permanent, persistent reduction in lung function."
About 13,000 FDNY workers who responded in the days after September 11th participated in the study. The researchers say fewer than 3 percent had abnormal lung function before the attacks but now that figure ranges from 8 to as high as 18 percent.
"This was an unprecedented exposure to an enormous volume of dust and smoke and all kinds of products of combustion and whatnot, an exposure well beyond what occurs in normal firefighting," said Dr. Thomas Aldrich of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
FDNY Deputy Chief Jim Riches not only lost one of his firefighter sons on September 11th, but he was forced to retire because of his lung injury.
"I couldn't breathe. They had me on a mechanical ventilator for 16 days in a coma. I had stroke-like symptoms and I had to learn to walk and talk all over again," said Riches.
About 1,000 firefighters and EMS workers have retired on respiratory disability since September 11, 2001.
In response to the study, Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said in a statement, "These findings demonstrate the need for continued funding of the important monitoring and treatment programs that we began immediately after the attacks and continue today as part of our ongoing commitment to all those who gave so much to this department and this city.”
It is a sentiment FDNY researchers agree with. Further study will try to determine whether aggressive treatment attempts can work to improve lung function among responders or keep it from declining further.