WTC Rescue Personnel Have Poor Lung Function

Risk factors of metabolism syndrome can predict poor lung function

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Many rescue personnel risked their lives during the World Trade Center (WTC) recovery process. Because of all the dust, dirt and debris in the air, many have experienced lung problems. New research has shown that it may be possible to predict lung problems in WTC personnel.

In a study involving WTC rescue workers exposed to dust, researchers were able to predict if lung function was going to continue to deteriorate. Researchers not only found biological indicators that predicted possible lung problems but also one which may reduce lung problems.

"Get your lungs checked if you work near dust or dirt."

A case-control study of 327 non-smoking WTC rescue personnel from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) discovered biological indicators of metabolic syndrome that predicted decreased lung function over six years. Researchers also discovered a hormone that may decrease the risk of reduced lung function.

Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors that combine to increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. These risk factors included high blood cholesterol levels, higher heart rate, and elevated leptin levels. A higher level of leptin, a protein that helps regulate appetite, is usually found in obese individuals.

Researchers examined values of  forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) in each individual six months after exposure to WTC dust as a way to test normal lung function. To measure this value , a patient simply exhales forcibly for a second. The amount of air that is forced out is then measured to determine if lung function is normal or below-normal.

Rescue personnel with high blood cholesterol levels or elevated leptin levels were three times as likely to have below-normal FEV1 values. Personnel with elevated heart rates were twice as likely to have below-normal FEV1 values.

While these biological indicators increased the risk of developing below-normal FEV1 values, the hormone amylin may reduce the risk. Amylin is a hormone that has been associated with Type-2 diabetes. There are amylin receptors on the surface of the lung and personnel with elevated amylin levels decreased the risk of developing below-normal FEV1 values by 84 percent.

The study was limited to WTC personnel, but future studies could expand the scope and include a control group and a broader range of patients. Since metabolic syndrome is a factor worldwide, as is exposure to dust and other particles, understanding the connection between metabolic syndrome and lung function can lead to ways to reduce risk factors.

Future studies can evaluate ways to use amylin to reduce the risk of developing poor lung function. Continued research on WTC or other disasters can help develop ways to identify risk factors and act earlier to reduce any damage. 

This study was published in the November edition of American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 19, 2011
Last Updated:
December 5, 2011