Asthma Epidemic Documented Among 9/11 Responders

Recovery workers who spent significant time at Ground Zero after Sept. 11, 2001, developed asthma at a rate 12 times higher than what is normal for adults, according to statistics published yesterday in a report by the city Health Department.

The agency’s study – the largest to date, according to city Deputy Commissioner of Epidemiology Dr. Lorna Thorpe – determined that those who responded to the World Trade Center attacks early on or were exposed to the site over longer periods of time were especially likely to have developed new cases of asthma.

Of 25,748 rescue and recovery workers listed in the World Trade Center Health Registry who did not previously have asthma, 926, or 3.6 percent, reported being diagnosed with asthma after the World Trade Center attacks.

More than 7 percent of people who arrived on Sept. 11 and worked for at least 90 days developed asthma, according to the report.

Workers who wore masks or respirators on Sept. 11 and 12 reported less “newly diagnosed” asthma – 4 and 2.9 percent on those two days – than people who did not – 6.3 and 4.5 percent, the study revealed.

The study, which did not include specific Staten Island data, was reported yesterday in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal.


“It doesn’t surprise me that the numbers were high,” said Joseph Sykes of Westerleigh, who spent about three months at Ground Zero as a fire marshal. He retired in 2002 after being afflicted by health problems and is currently taking six medications daily for asthma and acid reflux disease. “You didn’t need to do a study to figure that out. It’s not rocket science.”

Asthma, a chronic disease that does not currently have a cure, results in inflamed lungs that can easily get irritated, causing episodes of airway tightening and symptoms such as wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.

“The dust from the World Trade Center collapse appears to have had significant respiratory health effects, at least for people who worked at the site,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, commissioner of the Health Department, in a statement. “These findings reflect the critical importance of getting appropriate respiratory protection to all workers as quickly as possible during a disaster, and making every effort to make sure workers wear them at all times.”

Dr. Thorpe, one of the authors of the report, said yesterday that the findings underscore the need for rescue and recovery workers and volunteers to enroll in medical monitoring programs.

“It speaks to the importance of having adequate supply of respiration protection for future emergencies and guidance for emergency responders,” she added.


Various programs are available for those potentially suffering from Sept. 11-related health conditions, including the FDNY World Trade Center Monitoring and Treatment Program for active and retired firefighters and a program at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital, sponsored by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

About 79 percent, or 20,394, of those afflicted, were men, while 72.5 percent, or 18,670, were non-Hispanic whites. More than 60 percent, 15,599, of the newly diagnosed asthmatics were between the ages of 25 and 45.

“They keep doing these studies,” said Sykes, who believes the Health Department’s count of asthma sufferers is on the low end. “Studies are useless. Who cares what’s the percentage? We know it’s high. Use that money to find a cure or pay for medications that people are taking.”

Rep. Vito Fossella, who along with Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan/Queens) fought for the appointment of a federal 9/11 Health Czar to coordinate World Trade Center benefit programs, said the report “points to the need for the federal government to develop a comprehensive plan to monitor and treat those who are sick or injured as a result of 9/11.”

John Feal, who heads the not-for-profit Feal Good Foundation that aims to spread awareness about the health effects on 9/11 responders, called the study “a slap in the face and an insult.”

“Money is being spent on data and gathering information,” the Long Island resident said. “It’s more important to spend money on treatment. Take some of that money and actually treat the asthma.”

Glenn Nyback and Tevah Platt are news reporters for the Advance. They may be reached at and


Recovery workers who spent significant time at Ground Zero after Sept. 11, 2001 developed asthma at a rate 12 times higher than what is normal for adults, according to statistics in a city Health Department study released yesterday.

Here is how the 25,748 responders broke down in terms of gender, age and race.


Male (20,394) 79.2%

Female (5,354) 20.8%

Age on September 11, 2001

8 – <25 Years (1,346) 5.2%

25 – <45 Years (15,599) 60.6%

45 – <65 Years (8,319) 32.3%

65+ Years (484) 1.9%


White, Non-Hispanic (18,670) 72.5%

Black, Non-Hispanic (2,246) 8.7%

Hispanic or Latino (3,464) 13.5%

Asian (607) 2.4%

Multiple (457) L8%

Other or Unknown (304) 1.2%

SOURCE: National Institute of Environmental Health Services

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