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Large Study of WTC Responders Finds Persistent Health Problems

Mount Sinai researchers have released new findings from the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program, the largest multicenter clinical program providing medical screening examinations for the workers who participated in the Ground Zero cleanup immediately following the September 11 attacks. The study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, on September 7.

The report, the largest of its kind to illuminate health conditions of 9/11 responders, was announced at a press conference in the Icahn Medical Institute on September 5. Philip J. Landrigan, MD, the Ethel H. Wise Professor and Chair of Community and Preventive Medicine, and Robin Herbert, MD, Associate Professor of Community and Preventive Medicine, and Co-Director of the WTC Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program, presented the findings.

The report, which found that 70 percent of responders suffer respiratory problems, was “sobering,” said Dr. Herbert. “There can be no doubts about the health effects of the World Trade Center attacks. Our patients are sick and will need ongoing medical treatment for the rest of their lives.”

Also speaking at the press conference were US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton; Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney; Congressman Jerrold Nadler; John Howard, MD, MPH, Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH); and James Melius, MD, DrPH, Administrator of the New York State Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund. In the study, Dr. Herbert, along with program Co-Director Stephen M. Levin, MD, Associate Professor of Community and Preventive Medicine, examined 9,442 responders—including law enforcement officers, firefighters, utility, transit, building, and telecommunications workers—between July 2002 and April 2004.

They found nearly 70 percent of their patients had a new or worsened respiratory symptom that had developed during or after their time working at the WTC; 61 percent developed respiratory problems while working at Ground Zero; 59 percent reported a new or worsening respiratory symptom at the time of their medical examinations; and one-third of the group had abnormal pulmonary function tests.

The researchers also found those who were the first to arrive to Ground Zero had higher rates of respiratory problems. Severe respiratory conditions, including pneumonia, were higher during the six months after 9/11 than in the six months prior. The most common conditions observed included sinusitis, laryngitis, vocal cord dysnfunction, asthma, persistent coughing, musculoskeletal problems, and psychological disorders such as depression and post traumatic stress disorder.

“The air was not safe to breathe,” said Senator Clinton at the press conference. “It was obvious that the air was hard to see through, let alone breathe. This study puts to rest any doubt of what happened to the workers and underscores the need for continuing long-term treatment options.” The data compiled by Mount Sinai, she added, “is a great example of Mount Sinai’s leadership” and will help lawmakers in Washington make the case on behalf of WTC responders for more federal support for their care.

Dr. Landrigan noted that Mount Sinai physicians continue to screen WTC workers and urged all workers to undergo medical screening and monitoring. “An estimated 40,000 rescue and recovery workers were exposed to caustic dust and airborne toxic pollutants following 9/11,” he said. “It is important that those who gave so heroically in the aftermath of the disaster be assured that they will be able to get all the medical care they need.”

About 95 members of the press attended the press conference, and the story was covered in most major media outlets around the world.

Firms Cited For Violations At WTC Site

The government has hit two World Trade Center site contractors with the first fines for failing to protect workers from toxic dust.

OSHA has fined demolition company John Galt and security group Tyler Conner, after health inspectors found workers were not wearing proper respiratory masks near the former Deutsche Bank building.

Inspectors say the guards could have been exposed to dust containing asbestos, lead and other toxins. Both companies were fined approximately $1,000.