- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2001

Nearly 4,000 New York firefighters who have worked relentlessly at the site of the September 11 terrorist attacks are experiencing respiratory problems and other illnesses dubbed "World Trade Center" syndrome.
Many people who live and work in lower Manhattan near ground zero also have maladies, such as persistent cough, shortness of breath, sinus infection, chest pain and pressure, and stress, according to doctors who are treating them.
"These are smoke and dust inhalation injuries the patients are not sick in a life-threatening way, but their conditions are debilitating," Dr. Alan M. Fein, chief of the Center for Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, said in a telephone interview.
Dr. Neil Schachter, medical director of the respiratory care unit at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, put it this way: "Pollution and stress have combined to give them symptoms.
"No one I've seen has been hospitalized. But for many, there have been recurring problems that have disrupted their daily lives," he said.
Dr. Schachter said one of his patients, a woman who works near ground zero, is "leaving her job" because of an unrelenting cough and "chest tightness" she has experienced in the aftermath of September 11.
Dr. Fein said he has been treating a New York policeman involved in rescue work at ground zero for much of the first week after the terrorist attacks.
He said the young man a nonsmoker with no history of respiratory problems has a chronic cough and chest pain resulting from inflammation of the lungs.
Asked if he is optimistic the man will soon be back to normal, Dr. Fein said, "I'm hoping. But this is persisting longer than I thought, and this is uncharted territory."
Nowhere has World Trade Center syndrome or World Trade Center cough as it's also being called been more prevalent than in the Fire Department.
The 4,000 ailing firefighters represent 40 percent of city firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center disaster.
Earlier this week, New York Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said the 4,000 firefighters have been given steroid inhalers. Mr. Von Essen, who acknowledged he, too, has a nagging cough, also is using an inhaler.
In addition, all firefighters working at ground zero have been told to wear respirators.
Mr. Von Essen also announced that all Fire Department employees are being asked to undergo four-hour medical examinations to determine whether they face long-term damage to their lungs from breathing in dust, pulverized concrete, asbestos particles and other debris, and smoke containing the fumes of benzene, sulfur and other toxins released when the twin towers toppled after being struck by hijacked airliners.
Dr. David Prezant, chief pulmonary physician for the Fire Department of New York, told the Daily News that a random sampling of 100 sick firefighters found 25 with breathing problems that indicate they could develop asthma.
However, Mr. Von Essen said the good news is that so far there have been no major medical problems among exposed firefighters and no increase in medical leave.
The New York City Health Department announced early last month that "ongoing monitoring of airborne contaminants" by federal, state, and city agencies "indicate that the levels continue to be below the level of concern to public health."
Health Commissioner Neal L. Cohen said at that time that levels of contaminated particle matter being detected "do not pose long-term health risks to the general public."
Nevertheless, Dr. Prezant, in an interview with Newsweek, said several firefighters have lung trauma and severe asthma.


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