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9/11 dust may have aged rescuers' lungs early

Study indicates 12 years' worth of function loss

WASHINGTON -- Dust and smoke from the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, caused the lungs of rescue workers to age by an average of 12 years and may put them at risk of developing chronic breathing problems, a study said.

Tests done on 11,766 New York City firefighters and paramedics who responded to the terrorist attacks indicated that many suffered a loss of lung function in the next year that was equivalent on average to about 12 years of age-related decline. Firefighters who arrived first had more frequent and severe bouts of wheezing and chest pain than those who came more than 48 hours later.

Protective equipment such as masks were used by only 22 percent of early responders the day they arrived, according to findings published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

``Initial lack of adequate equipment and subsequent compliance problems diminished any protective impact," study author Gisela Banauch said in a statement.

Researchers at Montefiore Medical Center in New York compared lung functioning of firefighters who had been screened prior to the attack with tests taken during the following year. The percentage of fire personnel with below-normal lung-functioning measurements doubled in all exposure groups, even among those who arrived at the site on the third day.

Breathing problems persisted for a small group of firefighters who were followed for two years. Banauch said studies are underway to examine how the rate of decline in lung function has changed in the five years since the attack.

``The farther away from the inciting event, the less definite the cause and effect become," Banauch said in a telephone interview yesterday

``Even people who started having problems two or three years after 9/11 may have sustained some kind of injury that wasn't initially obvious."

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