Some Exposed to WTC Dusts Show Improved Lung Function

This encouraging finding is reported in the October issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Follow-up tests of some residents and workers who were exposed to dusts and fumes following the 9/11 attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center show gradually improving lung function, according to the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), which says this study is published reported in the October issue of its Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Dr. Joan Reibman (joan.reibman@nyumc.org) of the New York University School of Medicine headed the team of researchers who analyzed the results of repeated lung function tests of 946 people who were exposed to the WTC site during and/or after the attacks. The tests took place at the Bellevue Hospital Center WTC Environmental Health Center.

"At first evaluation, the patients had a 'restrictive' pattern of lung function abnormalities typical of WTC exposure. About 86 percent had breathing-related symptoms after being exposed to the WTC attacks and/or cleanup. The analysis included an average of three lung function tests (spirometry) performed up to six years apart," according to ACOEM. "The results showed a pattern of improvement on repeated spirometry tests. Two key measures reflecting the ability to exhale air from the lungs — forced vital capacity and forced expiratory volume in one second — increased by an average of one percent per year or more."

ACOEM's report says rescue and recovery workers had greater improvement in lung function, while people who worked near the WTC site had the least improvement. "Despite the gains, however, lung function measures remained below normal in all groups, of WTC-exposed patients. Heavy smokers who accounted for about one-fifth of the patients had no long-term improvement in lung function," according to ACOEM.

"These data demonstrate spirometry improvement in select populations suggesting reversibility in airway injury and reinforcing the importance of continued treatment," the researchers wrote, adding that long-term evaluation and follow-up may be needed for people exposed to other environmental disasters.

The citation for the paper is Liu M, Qian M, Cheng Q, et al. Longitudinal spirometry among patients in a treatment program for community members with World Trade Center-related illness. J Occup Environ Med. 2012;54(10):1208-13.

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