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Big rise in lung ailments for WTC Bravest

May 8, 2007 | New York Daily News Cases of a lung disease rose dramatically among city firefighters and paramedics after they responded to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and they are sicker than those affected before 9/11, according to a study published today.

There were 26 new cases of sarcoidosis in the five years after Sept. 11, 2001, FDNY doctors report in this month's issue of the journal Chest. In comparison, there were 45 cases in the 15 years before the attacks.

While just one of the firefighters who developed the inflammatory disease before 9/11 had any symptoms, 69% of those who developed it afterward have asthma, the study found.

"Asthma is a disabling disease for firefighters," said Dr. David Prezant, the FDNY's chief medical officer. "It's had an impact on people's lives, their careers."

EMS Lt. Jeffrey Halpern was recently diagnosed with sarcoidosis and suffered breathing problems stemming from his work at Ground Zero, according to statements written by his doctors.

Though Halpern, 59, said he smoked pipes and cigars in college, he's "100%" certain his disease is the result of Ground Zero.

Sarcoidosis "hasn't been seen, and all of a sudden it's being seen? I think that's a pretty good argument," said Halpern, who lives in Brooklyn.

The FDNY confirmed Halpern worked at Ground Zero but could not immediately say how many hours he spent at the site. Although Halpern is part of the department's medical monitoring program, he is not being treated by its doctors for a specific World Trade Center ailment, said FDNY spokesman Frank Gribbon.

Halpern, who said he needed a private doctor for another serious illness, is in the process of documenting his sickness for the department.

The FDNY data are the first to show a rise in sarcoidosis after an "intense environmental exposure," Prezant wrote. That "strongly" suggests that the proliferation of FDNY cases is linked to the toxic cloud at Ground Zero, he said.

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