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U.S.: Terrorist Attack Poses Prolonged Health Hazards

  • Julie Moffett

Experts say air pollution in New York City following the 11 September terrorist attack poses prolonged health hazards for residents and especially people who are working long hours at the site on rescue and recovery missions. Our correspondent Julie Moffett spoke to one such expert, a medical doctor.

Washington, 5 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Medical doctors are cautioning that the lingering dust in the air from the 11 September terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center buildings in New York could result in profound health effects, including emphysema, heart disease, and a worsening of asthmatic conditions.

Experts say the deadly dust mixture could contain particles of asbestos, jet fuel, melted plastic and metal, glass shards, and pulverized concrete.

Steven Koenig, a physician and an expert on pulmonary diseases at the University of Virginia, told RFE/RL that even healthy people could be affected by prolonged exposure to the dust.

He said that depending on what the dust is and how much gets in or is absorbed into the bloodstream, it can have a variety of affects. There can be an irritation to the eyes, irritation to the nasal passages, and so on. Koenig said a lot depends on what is in the dust and what the person's underlying respiratory system is like.

Koenig says there are numerous dangerous chemicals that cause breathing problems, many of which are likely present in the World Trade Center dust. He says these chemicals could cause a range of respiratory diseases, from asthma -- which affects the breathing passages or airways -- to more serious health affects that can arise from irritated or damaged pulmonary lung tissue. Breathing problems could, in turn, trigger heart problems or heart attacks.

But Koenig says he expects the most common problem will be what he calls "irritant induced asthma."

Koenig says the people most at risk for these kinds of health problems are those who live in the vicinity and are exposed to the dust on a regular basis. This includes the rescue personnel who are working long, hard hours at the site, clearing away the debris and stirring the dust back into the air.

Koenig says in order to protect themselves, rescue workers and individuals who live in the area should wear masks or some protective device over their mouth and nose. Of course, he says, the best solution is to prevent prolonged exposure.


New Study Urges Exercise for Elderly

A new study conducted in the United States says that regular moderate exercise can give a healthy emotional boost to the elderly without causing them any additional physical pain.

The study, one of the largest of its kind ever undertaken, found that older adults who engage in at least 30 to 40 minutes a day of exercise three times a week reported a significant improvement in emotional well-being. Kenneth Schechtman, a medical doctor at the Washington University School of Medicine in Missouri and the team's research leader, told RFE/RL that the findings of the study are important because many older adults are hesitant to exercise.

"I think a lot of people are reluctant to exercise, a lot of elderly people in particular, because they may have arthritis or they may have other conditions that make it difficult, and lead -- with good reason -- to the feeling that if I exert myself, I might increase the pain associated with my arthritis."

Schechtman says that more than half of the participants in his study complained of some degree of arthritis. Nonetheless, he says that those volunteers who participated in vigorous to moderate walking, as well as weight and flexibility exercises, reported a surprising gain in emotional health without an increase in pain.

Schechtman says that his study included elderly adults who did not exercise and comparisons were made to those who did. The team looked at more than 1,700 frail adults at four sites around the United States. All were considered at risk for fall-related injuries.

While Schechtman says moderate exercise appears to be beneficial both physically and emotionally, he cautions that people should not become involved in any type of exercise program without consulting first with a physician.

"There are potential conditions that could mitigate against exercise. So this is a caution that is essential."

If a physician approves an exercise program, Schechtman says moderate activity is fine and there is no need to walk or work out so vigorously that it would lead to extreme exhaustion.

"We are talking about really moderate kinds of activity. The kind that most people can do, most people in this age range, can do. These results just suggest one more reason -- and there are many others -- but one more reason why this kind of activity is of benefit."


WHO to Study Possible Link Between Airline Flights And Blood Clots

The World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed a two-year, $11 million research study to determine whether there is a link between airline travel and blood clots.

The WHO wants to study the frequency and severity of blood clots that occur during flights and determine whether they could be related to prolonged air travel.

Blood clots can be deadly, and may form in the legs of passengers who sit relatively motionless in their seats for long periods of time. If the clots break loose, they can lodge in vital organs, including the brain, heart, and lungs.

About 5 million people suffer from health-related issues involving blood clots in the U.S. each year.