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Long-lasting sensory loss in WTC workers
Date:5/17/2010

PHILADELPHIA (May 18, 2010) -- New research from the Monell Center and collaborating institutions reports that workers exposed to the complex mixture of toxic airborne chemicals following the 9/11 disaster had a decreased ability to detect odors and irritants two years after the exposure.

"The nose performs many sensory functions that are critical for human health and safety," said lead author Pamela Dalton, PhD, MPH, an environmental psychologist at Monell. "The sensory system that detects irritants is the first line of defense to protect the lungs against airborne toxic chemicals. The loss of the ability of the nose to respond to a strong irritant means that the reflexes that protect the lungs from toxic exposures will not be triggered."

Individuals involved in rescue, recovery, demolition and clean-up at the World Trade Center (WTC) were exposed to a complex mixture of smoke, dust, fumes, and gases. In the study, reported online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, Dalton and collaborators studied 102 individuals who worked or volunteered at the WTC site on 9/11 and during the days and weeks afterward to determine whether this exposure affected their ability to detect odors and irritants.

Forty-four percent of the workers reported being in lower Manhattan on 9/11 and 97 percent worked on the site during the week after the buildings' collapse.

Two years after the exposure, the WTC workers had decreased sensitivity to odors and irritants as compared to similar workers with no WTC exposure. Twenty-two percent of the WTC workers had a diminished ability to detect odors and nearly 75 percent had an impaired ability to detect irritants.

Workers exposed to the dust cloud immediately after the buildings' collapse had the most extreme loss of sensitivity to irritants, with an almost complete inability to detect the nasal irritant used in the study.

Almost none of the individuals tested r
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Contact: Leslie Stein
stein@monell.org
267-519-4707
Monell Chemical Senses Center
Source:Eurekalert

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