Volume 16 • Issue 41 | March 12 - 18, 2004

Children’s asthma study suggests possible 9/11 effects

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Children in Chinatown visited the doctor more for asthma in the year after Sept. 11, 2001 than they did before the attack on the World Trade Center, researchers have found.

Researchers retroactively reviewed the charts of 205 child asthma patients at a Chinatown clinic. Unlike many attempts to gauge the health effects of the World Trade Center collapse, this study had a baseline to compare post-9/11 changes with, since the patients had been treated at the clinic before the terror attack.

“There’s a reason to be concerned about these kids,” said Dr. Anthony M. Szema, assistant professor of medicine and surgery at SUNY Stony Brook School of Medicine, who helped analyze the data. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health also contributed to the study, along with health care providers at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in Chinatown.

The study found that in the year after Sept. 11, 2001, asthma patients living within five miles of the World Trade Center site had significantly more clinic visits per year than in the previous year—or 3.95 visits per child before 9/11, compared with 5.10 after 9/11. Researchers hypothesized a connection between the nearness of patients’ apartments to the trade center site and the degree that their asthma worsened.

Researchers also found that peak flow values, or the amount that a person can exhale, fell below normal in the three months after 9/11. This period roughly coincides with the time that the fires burned at ground zero, but Szema said his data could not draw any correlation between the fires and decreased lung function.

Szema said that researchers want to conduct long-term studies of the asthma patients, since the long-term effects of their condition are not yet known. In addition to the harmful effects of respiratory illness, Szema said that long-term use of asthma treatments could also pose health threats. For example, the steroids commonly prescribed for asthma can stunt growth, he said.

Many Downtowners said the study’s results did not surprise them. Linda Lam said her daughter, a Stuyvesant High School student, developed asthma after 9/11 that improved on weekends and school vacations, when she was home in Queens. Then a freshman, Lam’s daughter was on two different medications for her asthma but she has since stopped using them, Lam said.

Even so, Lam said she fears any lingering effects of her daughter’s exposure to toxins released in the World Trade Center collapse.

“I am very concerned,” Lam said.

Chinatown community leaders also expressed worry over the study results.

“From the perspective of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, it confirms that there was a problem and perhaps a health emergency did exist,” said Stanley Mark, an attorney with the organization.

Not all Downtowners see a link between 9/11 and asthma, however.

“Certainly, I haven’t seen any increase,” said Dr. Michel Cohen, a popular Tribeca pediatrician. Cohen said that very few of his patients suffer from asthma, but those who do, did not get any worse after the World Trade Center collapse.

Many residents of Battery Park City and Tribeca left the area in the immediate aftermath of the terror attack, whereas those further from the W.T.C. and in the less affluent communities of Chinatown and the Lower East Side had fewer options for temporary housing elsewhere.



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