Doctors Expect New 9/11 Health Challenges in Years to Come

NY 1 - September 09, 2011

by Kafi Drexel

Since the September 11th attacks, doctors at the World Trade Center Health Program based out of Mount Sinai Medical Center have seen more than 27,000 first responders -- a number that's only expected to increase as time goes on. NY1's Kafi Drexel filed the following report.

Doctors at Mount Sinai Medical Center began examining the health of police officers, firefighters, construction, transit and cleanup workers shortly after 9/11. They say initially a one-time screening of responders was planned that might last about a year or two to make sure their health was okay. But as experts in occupational medicine, they quickly realized a much bigger problem was on their hands.

"Initially if you think back 10 years to fall 2001 the thing people were most concerned about was the World Trade Center cough. That's mostly gone," said Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Mount Sinai WTC Program. "But what we know now after 10 years is asthma is persistent, mental health problems are persistent, the GERD is persistent and the percentage of responders who are developing objective abnormalities on the pulmonary function testing has been steadily increasing at the rate of several percentage points each year which I find very troubling for the future."

One of the tens of thousands of responders still suffering is retired New York City Police Department detective John Williams. He spent the first few months after 9/11 sifting through debris at Fresh Kills landfill.

"A couple years after I retired for a period of about four or five years I got bronchitis every winter which never happened previous to 9/11. No one definitely told me I had anything. Last Thanksgiving I got sick and never got rid of my symptoms," Williams said.

Even 10 years later, doctors are still seeing 75 to 100 new patients every month. A major standout, they say, is that a lot of the diseases they're seeing are continuing to change. More are also popping up. And they say that's a big part of the reason why they need to keep this program going along with others.

Mount Sinai doctors are already expecting to see a rise in 9/11 related cancers due to exposure to asbestos and other toxins -- cancers that don't really begin to show up until about 20 to 25 years down the line. Their task continues to be the balance between treating the health problems they see now while preparing for the unknown.