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Lung Problems Common Among Police After 9/11

First to arrive at World Trade Center registered highest risk

THURSDAY, Feb. 19, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- More than 75 percent of the police officers who responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York City developed a cough or other respiratory symptoms, says a Beth Israel Medical Center study in the February issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The study found that officers who arrived at the World Trade Center before the two towers collapsed in 2001 were the most likely to have abnormal lung function tests.

After Sept. 11, Beth Israel researchers offered respiratory health assessments to members of the New York Police Department's special Emergency Services Unit. It was one of the first units to respond to the World Trade Center attack.

Overall, 77.5 percent of the officers developed respiratory symptoms, most often a cough. When evaluated again two months later, three-fourths of the affected officers no longer had respiratory symptoms.

But the symptoms persisted or got worse in the remaining 25 percent of the officers, the researchers say. None of the officers in the study took medical leave from work because of their respiratory symptoms.

Only a few of the officers with respiratory symptoms had abnormalities that were detected during physical examinations, including x-rays, the study says. Almost 30 percent had abnormal results on a lung function test called spirometry, but most of those abnormalities were mild.

Police officers with previous respiratory disease or symptoms and those with more intense exposure to conditions at the World Trade Center site were more likely to have abnormal spirometry results. The abnormality rate was about 40 percent for officers who arrived at the World Trade Center before the first tower fell and about 25 percent for officers who arrived after both towers collapsed.

More information

To learn more about the long-term effects of Sept. 11, go to DisasterRelief.org.

SOURCE: American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, news release, Feb. 13, 2004
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