Helping out at Ground Zero has made many people sick. Members of rescue and recovery teams who worked amidst toxic dust during the 911 World Trade Center disaster are twice as likely as the general population to suffer from asthma now.

The findings were released by researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, these intrepid first responders suffer from asthma at a rate of about eight per cent, whereas the incidence in the general public is a little less than four per cent.

“Although previous WTC studies have shown significant respiratory problems, this is the first study to directly quantify the magnitude of asthma among WTC responders,” said Hyun Kim, an instructor in preventative medicine at Mount Sinai and lead author of the analysis.

“Eight years after 9/11 the WTC Program is still observing responders affected by asthma episodes and attacks at rates more than twice that of people not exposed to WTC dust.”

Researchers examined the medical records of 20,843 WTC responders who received medical screenings from July 2002 to December 2007 as part of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine-coordinated WTC Program.

Results were compared with the U.S. National Health Survey Interviews adult sample data for the years 2000 and 2002 to 2007.

Of the study’s rescue and recovery workers, 86 percent were men and the average duration of work at WTC sites was 80 days.

The study followed uniformed and other law enforcement and protective service workers (42 per cent of subjects), as well as construction workers and other responders who had engaged in paid and volunteer WTC-related rescue and recovery, essential service restoration and/or debris removal and clean-up efforts.

“It is important to note that this report focused on findings from baseline or initial visit examinations,” said Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, chair of Mount Sinai’s preventative medicine department and and principal investigator of the WTC Program Data and Coordination Center.

“The data show an increasing percentage of responders reporting asthmatic episodes, rising to double that seen in the general population. It is clearly vital that we continue to track responders’ health and look further into the medical outcomes of this population.”

“Asthma and other chronic lung conditions remain a significant burden for rescue and recovery workers responding to the attacks on the World Trade Center,” said Dr. Kalpalatha Guntupalli, president of the American College of Chest Physicians.

“The significant chronic health problems associated with the WTC attacks only reinforces the need for stronger disaster preparedness plans as well as long-term medical follow-up for 9/11 responders and individuals who respond to disaster-related events.”

The WTC Program currently offers WTC responders free medical surveillance examinations and targeted treatment for health conditions related to WTC work exposures. The Program is supported through funds administered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 27,000 responders have been medically screened under the program.

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