WTC Responders' Health Problems Not Abating, Expert Says

"The surprise is that people are not getting better despite persistent and intensive, long-term treatment," said Dr. Robin Herbert, director of the Mount Sinai Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine's screening and treatment program for World Trade Center responders who are not enrolled in the New York City fire and police screening program. Almost seven years after the 9/11 attacks, medical professionals screening and treating these responders consistently find they are still experiencing shortness of breath, dry cough, panic and anxiety attacks, substance abuse, and other problems that were predicted immediately after the attacks and began showing up only a month after they occurred, she said.

Herbert gave the keynote address Wednesday at the AIHce meeting in Minneapolis. She said the overall estimate is that 91,500 responders were exposed to a mixture of vaporized combustion products and building materials because of the fires and destruction caused by the attacks. Silica, gypsum, cement, glass particles, asbestos, heavy metals, dioxins, and other hazardous substances were in the mixture, the precise contents of which will never be known, Herbert said.

"I just want to emphasize that there was a tremendous human cost to some of the responders who were down there," she added. "I think it's reasonable to assume that we'll never, ever know the full extent of the exposures from the attack."

One study of responders' health problems was published in September 2006 in Environmental Health Perspectives, and a second study about psychological effects will be published by that journal soon, Herbert said.

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