The lasting health toll of September 11

Americans have all suffered the emotional effects of September 11’s terrorist attacks, but for many of New York City’s first responders who cleaned up the site in the months that followed, the physical effects still linger.

Dr. Raja Flores, chief of thoracic surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, spoke to about the adverse health effects some of those first responders have faced.

Mount Sinai researchers have been following approximately 30,000 first responders, many of whom were breathing in dust containing 2,000 tons of asbestos on a daily basis as they cleaned up the site.

The researchers found 30 percent had problems with asthma, 40 percent had sinus problems, and another 40 percent had gastro-esophageal reflux, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer.

However, according to Flores, the biggest concern was the risk of developing mesothelioma or lung cancer.

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    Mesothelioma is a disease that forms in the lining of the lung, which engulfs the lung, freezing the surrounding muscles and making it difficult for a person to breathe, Flores explained.  Patients who have the disease are more prone to developing pneumonia and other respiratory problems.

    In addition to the first responders, New York residents who lived in the surrounding area after the attacks may have been exposed to asbestos and could be at risk of developing mesothelioma, as well as other unforeseen health problems.

    “I think that there are going to be a lot of other things that develop that we did not anticipate,” Flores said, “but the things that we are anticipating are lung disease, asthma, cancers and also mental health issues – great amounts of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.”