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Surprising Science

“World Trade Center Cough”

‘World Trade Center cough’ and other ailments have afflicted first responders to the scene as well as cleanup crews, residents and workers in the area. The causes and treatments are being studied.  

What’s the Latest Development?

Ten years after the attacks on 9/11, many who witnessed the event still suffer from what has been coined “World Trade Center Cough”, a mix of respiratory problems caused by the then-toxic air of lower Manhattan. Much of the damage to people’s airways and lungs has been attributed to the highly alkaline dust, says Dr. Joan Reibman, director of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp.’s World Trade Center Environmental Health Center. “Early on, we understood that the dust had a very high pH,” she says. “If you’re inhaling it, that will cause an alkaline burn, which leads to inflammation of the airway.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Medical assistance, which entails monetary assistance, for those who still suffer the attacks has been slow to materialize because doctors say that expensive, long-term care is what is needed most. “The Zadroga Act [which provides $1.5 billion through at least 2015 to fund treatment programs] is a positive step forward, but not nearly enough, says John Feal, head of the FealGood Foundation, a Nesconset, N.Y.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy and public education about the health effects on Sept. 11 first responders.


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