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Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Sep;118(9):1251-6. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1001924. Epub 2010 May 13.

Chemosensory loss: functional consequences of the world trade center disaster.

Author information

  • 1Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. pdalton@pobox.upenn.edu

Abstract

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.

PMID:
20478761
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2944085
Free PMC Article

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