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Study Suggests WTC-Linked Respiratory Illnesses May be Irreversible

Feb 5, 2016

A recent study published in CHEST, the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, examined lung function among New York City firefighters exposed to toxic conditions during 9/11. Researchers looked at 13 years of lung function trajectories, and the effect of smoking and smoking cessation. Overall the study showed that lung function improved with cessation of smoking while those with a WTC-linked respiratory injury did not experience recovery.

FDNY firefighters lost an average of 10 percent of lung function after 9/11, according to the study background. In over 10 percent of FDNY firefighters, new obstructive airway diseases developed after the attacks. In the first 6 years following the attacks, there was generally little recovery. The goal was to study longer-term exposure effects and whether cigarette smoking made an impact.

Researchers looked at lung function tests from 10,641 WTC-exposed FDNY firefighters. On average, firefighters who arrived on the morning of the attacks had lower lung function compared to those who were less exposed. Those who never smoked had better lung function than individuals who are current smokers. The lung function of former smokers fell somewhere in-between, based on when they stopped smoking.

The authors concluded "13-years after 9/11/2001, most firefighters continued to show a lack of lung function recovery, with the trajectory of decline differing by WTC-exposure and smoking-status. Unlike the immutable effect of WTC exposure, we demonstrated the benefit on lung function of smoking cessation in this unique occupational/environmental cohort."

Findings such as these support the need for the Zadroga Act, which provides medical benefits and compensation to sick and injured 9/11 responders. The act, which was passed in 2010, created the WTC Health Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). Congress recently reauthorized the act after years of effort. The reauthorization, which was signed into law on December 18, 2015, funds the WTC Health Program for another 75 years and extends the VCF for another five years.

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