Eight Years Later, WTC Asthma Cases Still A Concern

NY 1 - November 11, 2009

by Kafi Drexel

Asthma is a growing problem for most New Yorkers. But the latest research shows September 11th responders are suffering in even larger numbers. NY1's Kafi Drexel filed the following report. Reverend Eleni Marudis was a volunteer chaplain at the World Trade Center site. Three months after, she was diagnosed with asthma and says every time she struggles taking a breath it serves as a humbling recollection.

"Suffering from asthma, it's not just the suffering from asthma. It's just knowing that it is related to that experience so every time you're short of breath I am reminded of why," Marudis said.

Reverend Marudis is just one of thousands of 9/11 responders who now have asthma. The latest research from the Mt. Sinai World Trade Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program shows 9/11 workers are twice as likely to be asthmatic. Eight percent of responders have asthma compared to only four percent of the entire U.S. population.

"For the most part, these are men and women who are very healthy before 9/11. A lot of them were police, firefighters, people in construction. People that needed to be strong. People that needed to pass a physical exam to get the job. And therefore only one or two percent had asthma before 9/11. Now eight percent have it after 9/11. That's a big increase," said Dr. Philip J. Landrigan of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

Reverend Marudis says asthma has gotten in the way of her ability to function.

"I have a shortness of breath. I'm much more susceptible to my environment," Marudis said.

In the years following the World Trade Center attacks, doctors at Mt. Sinai have continued to monitor responders with physicals, pulmonary function tests, blood tests and assessments of exposure to hazardous materials.

Along with asthma, they've discovered other respiratory problems and even cancers. Yet researchers still stop short of definitively saying being at the site is the direct cause of all their health complications. They say what the data does show though is a need to continue to track the health of responders.

"I would say the most important thing is that anybody who served at ground zero after 9/11 are to come into Mount Sinai, or Stonybrook, or UMDNJ, or Bellevue and get an examination even if they are not feeling well. There's two reasons for that. The first is if you've got something going on that you don't recognize we can pick it up early. The second reason to come in, even if you get a completely clean bill of health, it means we have a baseline examination," Landrigan said.

Even eight years after the attacks, doctors at Mt. Sinai say they are still seeing 150 new patients every month.