NEW YORK (AP) - An estimated 500 firefighters might have to
retire on disability because of respiratory problems caused by
inhaling smoke, dust and other particles after the terrorist
attacks last year, department officials reported.
The number of early retirees amounts to about 4 percent of New
York's 11,500 firefighters.
Dr. David Prezant, the Fire Department's deputy chief medical
officer, spoke in a telephone briefing Monday arranged by the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is publishing a
report by him and colleagues in a special Sept. 11 issue of its
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
In the publication, Prezant and colleagues said about 600
firefighters and paramedics remain on leave or limited duty because
of respiratory problems or stress.
That includes 358 firefighters and five department paramedics
who were on medical leave or light duty as of Aug. 28 because of
respiratory illness that appeared after the trade center tragedy. A
total of 250 were on leave with stress-related problems. Those
numbers include 37 workers with both respiratory and stress
problems.
Out of the 300-plus firefighters who developed a severe and
persistent condition dubbed "World Trade Center cough," about
half are still on medical leave or light duty, or are awaiting
evaluations for disability retirement.
The "World Trade Center cough," which includes coughing,
wheezing and shortness of breath, was defined for the study as
requiring at least four straight weeks of medical leave. Within six
months of the attack, it appeared in 332 firefighters and one
paramedic; with treatment, about half have recovered and returned
to full duty, Prezant said.
He said he expected a higher recovery rate based on previous
experience with smoke inhalation, where the level is closer to 90
percent, he said.
Asked why the cough recovery rate is lower, he said it is not
known what firefighters were exposed to last Sept. 11, but that
tiny particles in the huge dust cloud could themselves be highly
dangerous if inhaled. The sheer volume of particles and lengthy
exposure over days probably sets the trade center experience apart
from ordinary firefighter exposures, he said.
He said symptoms have improved to varying degrees even in the
firefighters who have only partially recovered.
"Life is becoming a little more livable," he said. "But
they're a long way off from (being) the physically active, athletic
firefighter."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press.