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Steep Lung Function Decline Seen in Ground Zero Workers

Adverse effects may have been prevented if workers had used masks

TUESDAY, Aug. 1 (HealthDay News) -- During the first year after the collapse of the World Trade Center, pulmonary function decreased by an equivalent of 12 years of normal aging among Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) rescue workers who were exposed to its dust, according to a study in the August issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Gisela I. Banauch, M.D., of the Pulmonary Division at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., and colleagues studied 12,079 FDNY workers employed on or before Sept. 11, 2001. Using 31,994 spirometries, they compared the adjusted average forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) during the first year after Sept. 11, 2001 with readings taken during the previous five years.

The researchers found that the adjusted average FEV1 decreased by 372 milliliters during the year after Sept. 11, 2001. Workers with high-, intermediate- and low-intensity exposure to the site experienced declines of 388 mL, 372 mL and 357 mL, respectively, indicating a statistically significant linear trend in the exposure-intensity response.

"This occupational morbidity could have been prevented with early and well-trained use of simple respiratory protective equipment (e.g., N95 masks)," state the authors of an accompanying editorial. "Let us be better prepared for future disasters in many ways, including institution of plans to protect emergency responders from unnecessary occupational exposures to irritant dusts."

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