Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) firefighters experienced intense dust exposure working at the World Trade Center (WTC) site on and after 11/9/2001 (9/11). We hypothesized that high-intensity WTC exposure caused abnormalities found on chest computed tomography (CT). Between 11/9/2001-10/9/2018, 4277 firefighters underwent a clinically-indicated chest CT. Spirometric measurements and symptoms were recorded during routine medical examinations. High-intensity exposure, defined as initial arrival at the WTC on the morning of 9/11, increased the risk of bronchial wall thickening, emphysema, and air trapping. Early post-9/11 symptoms of wheeze and shortness of breath were associated with bronchial wall thickening, emphysema, and air trapping. The risk of accelerated forced expiratory volume at one second (FEV1) decline (>64 mL/year decline) increased with bronchial wall thickening and emphysema, but decreased with air trapping. The risk of airflow obstruction also increased with bronchial wall thickening and emphysema but decreased with air trapping. In a previously healthy occupational cohort, high-intensity WTC exposure increased the risk for CT abnormalities. Bronchial wall thickening and emphysema were associated with respiratory symptoms, accelerated FEV1 decline, and airflow obstruction. Air trapping was associated with respiratory symptoms, although lung function was preserved. Physiologic differences between CT abnormalities suggest that distinct types of airway injury may result from a common exposure.
Keywords: epidemiological studies; lung injury; medical imaging; occupational exposure; pulmonary function tests.