9/11 Worker Survey Reveals Increased Asthma Rates

A survey of the World Trade Center Health Registry, published today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and conducted by New York City's Health Department, has found elevated rates of new asthma among WTC rescue and recovery workers.

Findings released today show that 3.6 percent of the 25,000 rescue and recovery workers enrolled in the Registry report developing asthma after working at the site, 12 times the normal rate expected for the adult population during such a time period. The rescue and recovery workers are a subset of the 71,000 people enrolled in the registry. The survey, conducted in 2003 and 2004, found that arriving soon after the buildings collapsed, or working on the WTC pile over a long period, increased the workers' risk of developing asthma. Workers who arrived on Sept. 11, 2001, and worked more than 90 days reported the highest rate of new asthma, 7 percent.

Though respirator use increased as the clean-up progressed, the survey states, many workers did not wear respiratory protection at the outset. Certain respirators can reduce exposure to hazardous dust when used correctly, but the survey could not distinguish among different types of masks or respirators, nor could it gauge correct usage.

Workers who wore them on September 11th and 12th reported newly-diagnosed asthma at lower rates (4 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively) than those who did not (6.3 percent and 4.5 percent). The longer the period of not wearing masks or respirators, the greater the risk, the survey found.

The Health Department has collaborated with clinicians from WTC Centers of Excellence to develop and distribute treatment guidelines for WTC-related respiratory condition. The guidelines are available at www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/chi/chi25-7.pdf.

The Health Department is now re-surveying all 71,000 registrants to learn more about their current health status. So far, nearly 60 percent of registrants have responded. Previous findings from the WTC Health Registry can be found at www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/wtc/materials.html.

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