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New York Times

Study: 7 Of 10 WTC Rescuers Suffer Lung Problems

September 5, 2006—Nearly seven out of every 10 World Trade Center rescuers suffered lung problems during or after their work at Ground Zero, and high rates of lung "abnormalities" continued years after the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to a new health study.

Days before the fifth anniversary of the destruction of the 110-story towers, Mount Sinai Medical Center on Tuesday issued the results of the largest study on 9/11-related health effects.

The study focused mostly on the so-called "World Trade Center cough," a phenomenon that was little understood immediately after the attacks, but has become the chief concern of health experts and advocates in the years since.

Findings highlighted by the study include:

  • Almost 70 percent of World Trade Center responders had new or worsened lung symptoms during or after the attacks.
  • responders who had no health symptoms before the attacks, 61 percent developed lung symptoms while working on the toxic pile
  • One-third of those tested had abnormal lung function tests.

The findings are based on medical exams conducted between July 2002 and April 2004 on 9,500 Ground Zero workers, including construction workers, law enforcers, firefighters, transit workers, volunteers and others.

The Mount Sinai program examined nearly 12,000 people overall, most of whom agreed to allow their information to be used in the study.

The data shows the illnesses tended to be worst among those who arrived first at the site.

The hospital has been the focal point of New York research on Sept. 11-related illnesses, and thousands have sought treatment there.

The report comes as public concern over the fate of Ground Zero workers has risen. In a class action lawsuit against the city and its contractors, 8,000 workers and civilians blame Sept. 11 for sinusitis, cancers and other ailments they developed after the attacks.

Dr. John Howard, who was appointed by the Bush administration in February to coordinate the various Ground Zero health programs, told The New York Times for Tuesday editions that he understands the skepticism of many responders.

"I can understand the frustration and the anger, and most importantly, the concern about their future," said Howard, the head of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. "I can't blame them for thinking, 'Where were you when we needed you?"'

Also Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was to announce related new initiatives. The programs would "build on our track record of supporting those who supported us in the months after 9/11," he wrote in an op-ed piece in the Daily News.

"The city will continue to do everything possible to learn about the problems people face and develop effective strategies to deal with them," wrote Bloomberg, whose administration has faced criticism for fighting workers' compensation claims in the courts.

The city-run World Trade Center Health Registry is tracking the long-term effects on 71,000 people, including those who lived or worked in lower Manhattan at the time of the attacks and the months of cleanup.

Gov. George Pataki signed legislation last month that expanded benefits for workers who became sick after toiling at Ground Zero. Bloomberg objected to the laws, saying they were unfunded and would cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

Then, last week, New York City health officials issued long-awaited guidelines to help doctors detect and treat Sept. 11-related illnesses -- medical advice considered crucial for hundreds of Ground Zero workers now scattered across the United States.

A House committee plans to hold a hearing on Sept. 11 health issues this week.