9/11 rescue workers' lungs not recovering: study

Rescue workers from the New York City Fire Department who suffered acute lung damage after exposure to World Trade Center dust have abnormal lung function seven years later, according to research from the New York-based Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

A study of nearly 13,000 workers found many experienced severe and persistent decline in lung function. The proportion of those who never smoked but had below normal lung function stood at about 13 percent for firefighters and 22 percent for emergency medical services workers by the end of the study, a university press release said. All of the participants had been tested prior to Sept. 11, 2001, allowing for a baseline comparison.

The research followed up on a 2006 study that found one year after the attack, rescue workers suffered more than 12 times the decline in lung function expected with normal aging. The largest decline occurred among workers who arrived the morning of the attack, when dust was most intense.

Previous studies have suggested the effects of firefighting on lung damage are mild and reversible; however, researchers speculate the unusual nature of the WTC dust cloud may be responsible for the lack of worker recovery, the release said.

The study appeared in the April 8 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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