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9/11 Dust Leaves a Medical Legacy

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, September 8, 2011

First responders—people who came from all over the country to help in the cleanup and recovery efforts—are still struggling with lung conditions. Thousands have shown signs of debilitating illnesses from breathing dust at the site. Some of the symptoms are bloody noses, skin rashes, pneumonia, upper respiratory infections, and what has become known as the WTC Cough – a prolonged, severe cough accompanied by shortness of breath. 

Mount Sinai Medical Center, which assisted at least 20,000 responders and volunteers, runs a World Trade Center Health Program that offers free comprehensive and confidential medical examinations, ambulatory services, and inpatient treatment for World Trade Center–related physical and mental health conditions. Created in 2002 to investigate the hazards, the Mount Sinai program began screening and treating people who provided rescue, recovery, clean-up, and restoration of vital support services at Ground Zero and related sites.

In what Mount Sinai officials have described as the first long-term study of the health impacts of the World Trade Center collapse, researchers there have found "substantial and persistent mental and physical health problems" among 9/11 first responders and recovery workers, Mount Sinai Medical Center said in a statement. The data were published this month in a special 9/11 issue of the medical journal Lancet.

The Mount Sinai World Trade Center Clinical Center of Excellence and Data Center evaluated more than 27,000 police officers, construction workers, firefighters and municipal workers over the years since 9/11 and found a high incidence of several conditions, including asthma, post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD), depression, sinusitis, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). More than one in five of all the responders studied had multiple physical and/or mental health problems, according to the Mount Sinai study.

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