Starting in early 2002, firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center on that awful day the previous September began reporting what became labeled "World Trade Center Cough." Since then, numerous other first responders, later responders, and people who simply lived in the general WTC area have also reported a variety of respiratory and other ills.
Clearly, these people are suffering. But are they suffering from a variety of toxins or alleged toxins that filled the air after the fiery explosions, or is their problem stress-caused psychogenic illness with perhaps some non-psychogenic illness mixed in?
Some scientific papers indicate stress as a major factor. But the media always favor the multiple toxin or "environmental illness" theory, and now insist as a chorus that a new report from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives has settled it.
"Many who worked at Ground Zero in the early days after the attacks have sustained serious and lasting health problems as a direct result of their exposure to the environment there," Dennis Charney, Mount Sinai's dean for academic and scientific affairs, said in a statement issued with the study.
What the report found was that 69 percent of some 9,500 responders said they suffered new or worsened breathing problems at the time of their WTC work. Further, in 59 percent symptoms persisted until their examinations (conducted from 2002 to 2004). But these are self-reported claims with no way of verifying them.
The best indication these people have real symptoms is that, among non-smoking responders, twice as many had abnormal readings on spirometer (a device that accurately measures your ability to breathe) as the general population.
Case closed? Not by a long shot.
One glaring problem is that those 9.500 evaluated in the Mount Sinai study aren't a representative sample of responders, merely an assessment of from a total of about 40,000.
Michael Fumento is a, journalist, and attorney specializing in science and health issues as well as author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing Our World .
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