Firefighters battle illness in NYC

Firefighters battle illness in NYC

By Joe Baker

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

New York firefighters have another concern in the aftermath of 9/11. They call it “World Trade Center cough.” It is affecting some 4,000 members of the New York Fire Department who have been clearing the WTC site.

The ailment is marked by persistent coughing and chest pain. ( A report on the ailment was published by The New York Times. At least one firefighter has been treated for allergic alveolitis, which is a rare lung inflammation.

An editor at The Wall Street Journal, who works near Ground Zero, developed a life-threatening autoimmune disease that was attributed to ingesting dust from the site.

New York Fire Commissioner Thomas von Essen said roughly 20 percent of the firefighters had persistent coughs from breathing dust at the site, which may have come from pulverized concrete.

The department’s chief pulmonary physician, Dr. David Prezant, said it’s common for firefighters to have a brief coughing spell after attending a fire. He said, however, that many of the firefighters who worked “round-the-clock” shifts at Ground Zero are still experiencing symptoms six weeks after the disaster.

Dr. Prezant told the paper these men have been given steroid inhalants to treat the coughing and heaviness in the chest. The treatment is aimed at easing the inflammation and reducing the coughing. It generally is given to persons suffering from asthma or chronic bronchitis.

In addition, the doctor said, some 370 firefighters have received thorough examinations and chest X-rays. He said there could be 10,000 such checkups within a month.

“We know medically that from inhaling large particulate matter, the consequences can range from chronic cough to asthma to a higher incidence of heart attacks,” Dr. Prezant said.

Thomas Manley, health and safety officer for the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said: “My level of concern is high. We do not know what we may have inhaled in the opening stages of the operation.”

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