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Clinical Investigations: WORLD TRADE CENTER |

Symptoms, Respirator Use, and Pulmonary Function Changes Among New York City Firefighters Responding to the World Trade Center Disaster*

Debra M. Feldman; Sherry L. Baron; Bruce P. Bernard; Boris D. Lushniak; Gisela Banauch; Nicole Arcentales; Kerry J. Kelly; David J. Prezant
Author and Funding Information

*From the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Drs. Feldman, Baron, Bernard, and Lushniak), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cincinnati, OH; Fire Department of the City of New York (Ms. Arcentales and Dr. Kelly), Bureau of Health Services, Brooklyn, NY; and Pulmonary Division (Drs. Banauch and Prezant), Department of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY.

Correspondence to: David Prezant, MD, FCCP, New York City Fire Department, Bureau of Health Services, 9 Metrotech Center, Brooklyn, NY 11201; prezand@fdny.nyc.gov



Chest. 2004;125(4):1256-1264. doi:10.1378/chest.125.4.1256
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Context: New York City firefighters responding to the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster on September 11, 2001, were exposed to numerous hazards. A medical screening program was conducted 3 weeks after the disaster on a sample of firefighters.

Objectives: To determine whether arrival time at the WTC and other exposure variables (including respirator use) were associated with symptoms and changes in pulmonary function (after exposure − before exposure).

Design: A cross-sectional comparison of firefighters representing the following groups: (1) firefighters who arrived before/during the WTC collapse, (2) firefighters who arrived 1 to 2 days after the collapse, (3) firefighters who arrived 3 to 7 days after the collapse, and (4) unexposed firefighters.

Setting: Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) Bureau of Health Services on October 1 to 5, 2001.

Population: A stratified random sample of 362 of 398 recruited working firefighters (91%). Of these, 149 firefighters (41%) were present at the WTC collapse, 142 firefighters (39%) arrived after the collapse but within 48 h, 28 firefighters (8%) arrived 3 to 7 days after the collapse, and 43 firefighters (12%) were unexposed.

Main outcome measures: New/worsening symptoms involving the eyes, skin, respiratory system, and nose and throat (NT), and changes in spirometry from before to after exposure.

Results: During the first 2 weeks at the WTC site, 19% of study firefighters reported not using a respirator; 50% reported using a respirator but only rarely. Prevalence ratios (PRs) for skin, eye, respiratory, and NT symptoms showed a dose-response pattern between exposure groups based on time of arrival at the WTC site, with PRs between 2.6 and 11.4 with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) excluding 1.0 for all but skin symptoms. For those spending > 7 days at the site, the PR for respiratory symptoms was 1.32 (95% CI, 1.13 to 1.55), compared with those who were exposed for < 7 days. Mean spirometry results before and after exposure were within normal limits. The change in spirometry findings (after exposure − before exposure) showed near-equal reductions for FVC and FEV1. These reductions were greater than the annual reductions measured in a referent population of incumbent FDNY firefighters prior to September 11 (p ≤ 0.05). There was a 60% increased risk of a decline of ≥ 450 mL in FEV1 in those arriving during the first 48 h compared to the referent (p ≤ 0.05).

Conclusions: The symptoms and pulmonary function changes following exposure at the WTC demonstrate the need for improvements in respirators and their use, as well as long-term medical monitoring of rescue workers.

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