Gisela I. Banauch, M.D., of the Pulmonary Division at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, and eight associates analysed the lung function test results of 12,079 New York Fire Department (FDNY) rescue workers, most of whom were at ground zero after the World Trade Center collapse. Among this group were 83 percent of those workers eligible for FDNY lung function screening before (starting on January 1, 1997) and after the tragedy. Approximately 11,500 fire personnel and 2,500 emergency medical service workers were at the World Trade Center site within the first week after September 11, 2001.

The authors said that 13.7 percent (1,660) of the rescue workers experienced early high intensity exposure to the dust by arriving the morning of 9/11 and by being present during the collapse of the North and South Towers. About 67.8 percent (8,185) had intermediate intensity exposure by arriving on the two days following the collapse. Nearly 16 percent (1,921) had low intensity exposure by arriving at the site on or after the third day.

The investigators explained that the rescue workers who had exposure to early- and intermediate-arrival time-based periods had significantly more frequent and more severe respiratory symptoms than did the group that arrived later.

In an editorial on the research published in the same issue of the journal, John R. Balmes M.D., of the University of California, San Francisco Lung Biology Center, wrote: “While the tragedy of the WTC collapse still sears the consciousness of those who value human life, some important lessons in occupational and environmental respiratory disease have been learned as a result of this disaster.” He calculated that the researchers present strong evidence of a decrease in ventilatory function for exposed workers equal to twelve years of age-related decline.

MEDICA.de; Source: American Thoracic Society (ATS)