(Life.com)

By Denise Mann

WEDNESDAY, April 7, 2010 (Health.com) — When the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, they produced a dense cloud of smoke and vaporized concrete and drywall.

New York City Fire Department rescue workers who were exposed to this polluted air—as well as the kicked-up dust and diesel exhaust that accompanied the rescue effort—had reduced lung function in the weeks and months following the attacks, researchers in New York found at the time.

Now, in a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the same researchers report that the lung impairment they observed in the rescue workers appears to be lasting. Firefighters and emergency medical personnel continued to have decreased lung function up to seven years after 9/11, the study found.

“This group has suffered real declines that need to be addressed with regular monitoring and aggressive treatment, because they are now at higher risk for developing future lung problems,” says the senior author of the study, David J. Prezant, MD, the chief medical officer of the New York City Fire Department and a professor of pulmonary medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in the Bronx. “We confirmed that the drop in lung function that occurred during that first year was substantial, and for the first time we showed that this drop is persistent.”

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