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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Prevalent in WTC Firefighters

Researchers recently released the results of a 15-year “longitudinal study” regarding the prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as “GERD,” in firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The results of the study indicate that firefighters suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, have an elevated risk of […]

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease PrevalentResearchers recently released the results of a 15-year “longitudinal study” regarding the prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as “GERD,” in firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The results of the study indicate that firefighters suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, have an elevated risk of developing GERD. Suffering from GERD can have severe and life-threatening health consequences. As a result, firefighters who heroically responded to the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on 9/11 must consult their physicians regarding their options for treatment of GERD.

GERD is another of the multitude of health problems physicians discovered in firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center. Thousands of firefighters, and anyone in lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn that horrific day, were exposed to what later became known as WTC dust when the towers collapsed. The collapsing towers rained down pulverized construction materials, glass, steel, ash, soot, asbestos, and any other substance found within the buildings onto the streets below. Firefighters responding to the scene in rescue and recovery efforts inhaled those harmful substances for extended periods during rescue and recovery missions at the WTC site.

Inhaling the toxic fumes from the smoldering pile of rubble as well as the poisonous air that enveloped lower Manhattan caused many firefighters and other first responders to develop severe breathing problems. Some people came down with what later came to be named “World Trade Center cough” and other respiratory disorders such as asthma, various forms of lung cancer, COPD, and asbestosis, to name but a few.

Parker Waichman LLP is a national injury law firm based in New York who lived the tragic events of 9/11 with their families, neighbors, and friends, some of whom are members of the FDNY. Parker Waichman LLP is proud to respondent members of the FDNY with their legal claims associated with illnesses from which they suffer as a result of their selfless dedication to protecting the public on September 11, 2001.

Parker Waichman LLP’s 9/11 lawyers have assisted dozens of members of the FDNY and other first responders in obtaining the health and financial benefits to which they are entitled. If you or a member of your family was a member of the FDNY, or another first responder, and worked at the WTC site, Parker Waichman LLP’s compassionate, experienced, and knowledgeable WTC attorneys can help you or your loved one get the financial and medical assistance available. Parker Waichman LLP’s WTC attorneys have extensive experience obtaining benefits for clients through governmental programs like the WTC Health Program and the WTC Victims’ Compensation Fund, which were components of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010.

Results of the Study

The researchers who conducted the study obtained biomarker samples from firefighters who worked at the WTC search and recovery site and followed them for 15 years. The researchers were watching for the growth of disease after the rescuers experienced exposure to harmful particles in the air. The biomarkers allowed researchers to establish a baseline from which they might be able to conclude if illnesses followed. The scientists found that the firefighters in the study had biomarkers that indicated the likelihood of developing GERD or Barrett’s Esophagus.

The 15-year study showed a dramatic increase in GERD among firefighters suffering from various forms of COPD. The elevated incidences of GERD lead researchers to conclude based on their findings that the firefighters suffering from GERD experienced a heightened risk from developing Barrett’s Esophagus, which will substantially increase the chances that the person will develop cancer of the esophagus.

Both gastroesophageal conditions can cause cancer. In people diagnosed with GERD, the chances of developing esophageal cancer are five times greater for GERD sufferers who experience GERD symptoms once per week compared to people who do not have GERD. Suffering GERD symptoms daily increases the risk of getting cancer seven-fold. People suffering from Barrett’s Esophagus are at risk for getting cancer of the esophagus 30 times than that of a person without Barrett’s Esophagus.

Barrett’s Esophagus is a complication associated with GERD. A patient who has GERD experiences stomach acid flowing from the stomach into the lower esophagus. In patients who have suffered from GERD for an extended amount of time, the lining of the lower esophagus begins to change from esophageal lining to lining more consistent with that of the stomach lining. Consequently, the lower esophagus narrows and cancer cells may develop.

Understanding the risks associated with GERD and Barrett’s Esophagus allows treating physicians to perform tests in an effort to identify pre-cancerous cells. Medical professionals widely believe that early detection of most cancers significantly increases the patient’s chances of surviving cancer. Therefore, patients with GERD or Barrett’s Esophagus should remain in close contact with their physicians and contact them for an immediate examination should they experience:

  • Frequent heartburn,
  • Difficulty swallowing,
  • Chest pain,
  • Vomiting blood, or
  • Passing bloody, tar-like stools.

All of these symptoms might signal significant complications due to GERD or Barrett’s Esophagus, and you should seek treatment immediately.

GERD and the WTC

The more significant issue here is the toxins firefighters inhaled at Ground Zero. It is quite evident that first responders inhaled damaging materials while working in lower Manhattan. To be sure, many people ingested some of these dangerous particles into their digestive systems, which could happen quite easily. For example, a person could have dust on his or her mouth and then take a sip of water. The water could wash the particles down into the digestive tract and become lodged. Undoubtedly, there were many cases of stomach cancer and other digestive diseases that emerged from the ruins of Ground Zero. While acknowledging that fact, researchers are considering alternative explanations.

Currently, physicians continue to study whether COPD can cause GERD. Researchers have yet to determine the link between the two seemingly unrelated illnesses. Doctors believe there is a deeper connection and are actively pursuing that association. One theory espoused by a number of clinicians suggests that the healthy microbes in the lungs and the stomach communicate and when the person experiences a disruption in the balance, both systems are affected. Scientists suspect that the connection lies in the mucous membranes in the lungs and stomach. However, no scientifically accepted explanation exists currently.

Researchers look to various forms of infections for a connection. It appears that some viral infections in the lungs lead to stomach problems. However, the relationship is not universal because doctors note that some viral lung infections cause stomach problems while others do not. Therefore, inhaling particles from the WTC collapse could have disrupted that delicate balance, but conclusive proof is lacking.

Remain Vigilant About Your Health

Everyone must remain vigilant about his or her health. Notwithstanding, first responders who risked their lives to respond to the World Trade Center collapse site, while selflessly going beyond the call of duty in many instances, must have a heightened sense of urgency when it comes to their health. Consult your doctor for more information about the connection between COPD and GERD as well as other WTC-related illnesses and diseases.

Contact Parker Waichman LLP For Assistance Getting the Legal Help You Need for Your 9/11 Claim

Contact Parker Waichman LLP today at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529) or use our contact form to learn about your legal rights for recovering compensation for your 9/11-related illness. Whether you were a first responder or someone who lived or worked in the disaster area, Parker Waichman LLP has the experience and skill you can trust to handle your claim.

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