9/11 workers lost ability to smell, detect irritants: Study

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Washington, May 19 (ANI): A study has found that workers exposed to the complex mixture of toxic airborne chemicals following the 9/11 disaster had a decreased ability to detect odours and irritants two years after the exposure.

The new research from the Monell Center and collaborating institutions reports that the inability to detect odours and irritants came 2 years after buildings' collapse.

"The nose performs many sensory functions that are critical for human health and safety," lead author Pamela Dalton, PhD, MPH, an environmental psychologist at Monell, said.

"The sensory system that detects irritants is the first line of defense to protect the lungs against airborne toxic chemicals. The loss of the ability of the nose to respond to a strong irritant means that the reflexes that protect the lungs from toxic exposures will not be triggered," she stated.

Individuals involved in rescue, recovery, demolition and clean-up at the World Trade Center (WTC) were exposed to a complex mixture of smoke, dust, fumes, and gases.

In the study, Dalton and collaborators studied 102 individuals who worked or volunteered at the WTC site on 9/11 and during the days and weeks afterward to determine whether this exposure affected their ability to detect odours and irritants.

Forty-four percent of the workers reported being in lower Manhattan on 9/11 and 97 percent worked on the site during the week after the buildings' collapse.

Two years after the exposure, the WTC workers had decreased sensitivity to odours and irritants as compared to similar workers with no WTC exposure.

Twenty-two percent of the WTC workers had a diminished ability to detect odours and nearly 75 percent had an impaired ability to detect irritants.

Workers exposed to the dust cloud immediately after the buildings' collapse had the most extreme loss of sensitivity to irritants, with an almost complete inability to detect the nasal irritant used in the study.

Almost none of the individuals tested recognized that their ability to detect odours and irritants was compromised.

Health screenings of WTC workers had documented the effects of inhaled exposure on the lungs and respiratory function, but little was known about the impact on sensory systems of the nose.

These sensory systems include the olfactory system, which detects odours, and the somatosensory system, responsible for detecting irritants, chemicals that cause pain, tingling, burning, stinging, or prickling.

The inability to detect irritants and odours is a critical safety concern, especially since the workers were not aware of their impairment.

"Odours also serve a protective function, such as the ability to identify smoke from a fire, leaking gas, or spoiled food," Dalton added.

The authors suggest that the ability to smell and detect irritants should be evaluated regularly in WTC responders and other workers having pollutant exposures.

The finding has been published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. (ANI)

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