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9/11 Lingers in Mind and Body

Health and psychological effects of 9/11 are still emerging and far-reaching.

Health Effects Linger for Locals and Rescue Workers continued...

Researchers say the persistence of these symptoms 10 months to a year after 9/11 is alarming. Although long-term results have not yet been published, they say the same issues are continuing at similar rates.

"When we looked at patients seen through April 2003, we're still seeing a significant number of upper respiratory problems -- meaning nasal congestion, rhinitis, and sinusitis -- and we're seeing a lot of cough and persistent shortness of breath," says Jacqueline Moline, MD, medical core director of the screening program.

Another effect of 9/11 researchers will be watching for in the future will be the impact of asbestos exposure. Long-term exposure to asbestos is known to increase the risk of cancer, but it can take decades for those cancers to appear.

Moline says she's hopeful that rescue workers won't experience an increase in cancer risk due to asbestos exposure. It will depend on the extent of exposure for each individual, but she says that the risk is certainly not as great as the risk seen by those who worked with asbestos for many years.

Even so, the health effects of 9/11 may also linger for generations to come. A study published earlier this year in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that babies born to mothers who were exposed to the toxic plume of smoke that followed 9/11 were twice as likely to have suffered growth problems while in the womb.

Debate Still Burning over Exposure Dangers

The extent of exposure to various elements following the collapse of the World Trade Center and subsequent fires is also a source of debate among officials and researchers and may play a large part in determining the actual health effects of 9/11 in the future.

"The air quality issues surrounding the first 24 hours after the attack were unprecedented," says Lioy. "The only thing that would come close would be a volcano eruption, but then you wouldn't have glass literally turning into very small fibers and building materials."

But a report issued last month from the Office of the Inspector General shows that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may have misled the public and local officials about the air quality in New York City following 9/11.

According to the report, the EPA made an announcement Sept. 18, 2001 that the air in the Ground Zero area was "safe" to breathe, but at that time the agency "did not have sufficient data and analyses to make such a blanket statement."

At that time, air-monitoring data for several pollutants of particular health concern was lacking, including information on PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which have been linked to cancer.

"I find that very frustrating as a physician and someone who was asked repeatedly if the air quality was safe," says Moline. "The fact that we may have given people advice based on flawed data, for me as a doctor, makes me sick.

"At this point, hopefully going forward they will be more transparent and actually tell people what they were measuring and not make overreaching statements," Moline tells WebMD. "Hopefully we will have a lesson learned from this."

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