First responders involved in World Trade Center (WTC) rescue operations have developed asthma at a much higher rate than has the rest of the population, according to survey results published in Environmental Health Perspectives. The survey also shows that using a respirator reduced the risk of asthma development.

Examining data from the 2003-2004 WTC Health  Registry, consisting of 71,000 registrants, an asthma diagnosis was reported by 926 workers (3.6%) who did not previously have the disease.  Proximity to the dust plume and the sooner workers responded to the attacks on the 11th of September were both reported as factors. 

On September 11th and 12th, workers who used respirators or masks reported lower rates of asthma (4.0% and 2.9% respectively) compared to those workers who did not use respirators (6.3% and 4.5%respectively).

"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 Thomas R. Frieden, MD, New York City health commissioner, in a prepared 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."

The survey could make no meaningful distinction between appropriate respiratory protection and inappropriate protection, a moderate protective effect from using a respirator use was observed. 

To read the EHP abstract, click here.