9/11 firefighters show long-term lung damage


Thu Nov 3, 2005 10:41 PM GMT
By Martha Kerr

MONTREAL (Reuters Health) - The latest follow-up report on lung function in New York City firefighters shows that firefighters who served in rescue efforts in the World Trade Center collapse are showing "accelerated pulmonary function decline."

The data were presented here Wednesday at CHEST 2005, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians.

Dr. David Pezant of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and deputy chief medical officer of the New York City Department of Firefighters was lead author of the report involving 12,079 firefighters who worked at the site before, during and after September 11, 2001, as well as those who were never exposed.

The cohort has been classified into groups according to exposure to particulate matter associated with the disaster site: those exposed acutely to particulate matter during the towers' collapse; those exposed over the next 48 hours; those exposed after 48 hours; and those who were not exposed.

The firefighters underwent lung function testing two to three times a year prior to 9/11 and once annually since then. Spirometry measures of lung function correlated linearly with arrival time at the disaster site, Pezant announced.

"Pulmonary function (forced expiratory volume in 1 second, or FEV1) decline was about 20 to 30 mL a year prior to the attack, which you would expect with the normal aging process," Pezant told Reuters Health.

"Instead, what we found was figures 12 times higher than that."

Lung function dropped the most for firefighters exposed during the collapse, followed by those who arrived over the next 48 hours, followed those who were exposed after that. Decline in lung function was around 50 percent greater in those with late exposure compared with those who were never exposed, he noted.

Pezant pointed out that the long-term course of lung function decline is uncertain.

The decline in pulmonary function appears to correlate with respiratory symptoms, he added. He also said: "I can tell you anecdotally that while there is some improvement in those who are treated, treatment does not eliminate the drop in pulmonary function entirely."

More than 2000 New York City firefighters have been treated for respiratory symptoms since 9/11. Pezant said his group is currently working on that data and a new report on the results of treatment on lung function over time will be issued in the upcoming months.

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