A study of nearly 13,000 rescue workers from the New York Fire Department shows that the significant proportion who suffered acute lung damage after exposure to World Trade Center dust have not recovered normal lung function in the years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The seven-year study, with almost 62,000 individual measurements, is the largest longitudinal study ever reported of occupational influences on lung function. It is the only group of WTC workers for which pre-9/11 lung function measurements were available. The study, led by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center, in collaboration with FDNY, appears in today's print edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.
“This exposure at Ground Zero was so unique that no one could have predicted the impact on lung function. We demonstrated dramatic decline in lung function, mostly in the first six months after 9/11 and these declines persisted with little or no meaningful recovery of lung function among FDNY rescue workers (firefighters and emergency medical service workers) over the next six-and-a-half years,” said Dr. David Prezant,professor of medicine at Einstein and senior author of the study.
For Prezant and his team, the critical mission remains identifying the individuals most affected and providing them with treatment to improve their quality of life and prevent further declines in lung function.
The current research follows up on a previous 2006 study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, that assessed lung function one year after the 9/11 attacks. In that study, Dr. Prezant and colleagues found that 9/11 FDNY rescue workers suffered substantial loss in lung function in the year following the attacks — more than 12 times the decline in lung function that would be expected to occur with normal aging. The largest decline was observed among workers who arrived at the WTC site the morning of 9/11, when the dust cloud was most intense.