Background: Individuals involved in rescue, recovery, demolition, and cleanup at the World Trade Center (WTC) site were exposed to a complex mixture of airborne smoke, dust, combustion gases, acid mists, and metal fumes. Such exposures have the potential to impair nasal chemosensory (olfactory and trigeminal) function. Objective: The goal of this study was to evaluate the prevalence of chemosensory dysfunction and nasal inflammation among these individuals. Methods: We studied 102 individuals who worked or volunteered at the WTC site in the days and weeks during and after 11 September 2001 (9/11) and a comparison group with no WTC exposure matched to each participant on age, sex, and job title. Participants were comprehensively evaluated for chemosensory function and nasal inflammation in a single session. Individual exposure history was obtained from self-reported questionnaires. Results: The prevalence of olfactory and trigeminal nerve sensitivity loss was significantly greater in the WTC-exposed group relative to the comparison group [prevalence ratios (95% confidence intervals) = 1.96 (1.2-3.3) and 3.28 (2.7-3.9) for odor and irritation thresholds, respectively]. Among the WTC responders, however, individuals caught in the dust cloud from the collapse on 9/11 exhibited the most profound trigeminal loss. Analysis of the nasal lavage samples supported the clinical findings of chronic nasal inflammation among the WTC-exposed cohort. Conclusions: The prevalence of significant chemosensory impairment in the WTC-exposed group more than 2 years after their exposure raises concerns for these individuals when the ability to detect airborne odors or irritants is a critical safety factor. Relevance to clinical practice: This outcome highlights the need for chemosensory evaluations among individuals with exposure to acute high or chronic levels of airborne pollutants.
- Occupational exposure
- World trade center
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
- Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis