Aggressive treatments, such as steroids, of rescue workers through programs such as the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program are probably helping to prevent further lung function declines, Landrigan said.
The impact of the reduced lung function on rescue workers varies by individual, with many continuing to experience wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing, Prezant said.
Typically, firefighters experience a short-term decrease in lung function after heavy exposure to smoke from building or woodlands fires. The World Trade Center attacks spewed even harsher pollutants, the study authors said.
In addition to normal smoke, the firefighters and paramedics were breathing in burning jet fuel and particulate matter from the World Trade Center itself. The fine particles overwhelmed the normal filtration systems of the nose and throat and settled deep into the lungs, Landrigan said.
"There is no question that being caught in the cloud was a terrible exposure," Landrigan said. "The dust cloud was so thick and the concentrations of toxins in the air were so high, they inhaled massive amounts of it."
On March 19, a federal judge rejected a settlement that would have given World Trade Center rescue workers at least $575 million to compensate them for their ailments, saying the compensation wasn't enough.
The World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program has more on 9/11-related medical issues.
SOURCES: David J. Prezant, M.D., professor of medicine, Albert Einstein Medical School, and chief medical officer, New York City Fire Department; Philip Landrigan, M.D., chairman, department of preventive medicine, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York City; April 8, 2010, New England Jour
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