Firefighters forced off the job due to respiratory problems

Nancy Hall - Staff Writer

Due to chronic respiratory problems suffered as a result of the World Trade Center tragedy, as many as 500 firefighters may be forced into retirement.
These problems are a direct result of the inhalation of particles, smoke and fumes that were in the area of the tragedy during the days and weeks surrounding the incident.
Few workers wore respirators in the time following the event, leading to the inhalation of various materials resulting from the collapse of the towers.
When the towers collapsed, the buildings’ materials were transformed into very fine particles that hung in the air. These particals can affect the lungs much in the same way as asbestos particles, and are in the lungs forever, or have the potential to be dissolved and digested.
The loss of firefighters would add to the already devastating numbers the department faces today. Among the 2,801 killed on Sept. 11, there were 341 firefighters and two paramedics lost inside the towers. As of Aug. 28 of this year, there were 358 firefighters and five medical workers still on medical leave. This has left an immense gap in the civil service field.
Some of the symptoms faced by the affected firefighters include persistent cough, wheezing, shortness of breath and other asthma-like symptoms, sinus inflammation and heartburn. Additional problems include persistent heartburn or gastroesophagal reflux, due to the swallowing of the particles. The stress, long hours and irregular mealtimes are how some firefighters live, which may aggravate the condition.
Symptoms that persist are gradually becoming more severe.
Doctors don’t yet know whether or not these men and women will get better or worse. There are worries about cancer and lung disease.
Concerns have been expressed regarding the firefighters use of respirators, and wondering why they decided to walk into clouds of dust and smoke without them.
In addition to the numbers out of work for respiratory illness problems, 213 others who are on leave due to the immense emotional distress of losing so many coworkers and friends.
Doctors say the numbers of affected firefighters are much better than what were expected.
Of the 11 thousand firefighters who worked at the site, ninety percent developed a cough. Considering the situation, that number is relatively low.
More research into these findings is being conducted, in addition to health studies of the people living around Ground Zero.