WTC workers experience sensory loss: study

May 20, 2010

Rescue, recovery, demolition and cleanup workers exposed to toxic airborne chemicals at the site of the World Trade Center had a decreased sensitivity to odors two years later, according to recent research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center.

Of the 102 workers and volunteers studied, 22 percent had decreased sensitivity to odors and almost 75 percent had an impaired ability to detect irritants, said a press release from the Philadelphia-based research institute. The biggest sensory loss occurred among workers exposed to the dust cloud after the towers fell. Almost none of the participants recognized their own impairment.

Sensory loss compromises workers' health and safety because it affects their ability to detect the presence of smoke, leaking gas and chemicals that cause pain, tingling and burning, researchers said.

The study was published online May 18 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.