9/11 firefighters show long-term lung damage
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
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
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
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,
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
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