Lung Health, Chemicals and Parkinson’s Disease, Medicine Alerts

By Mary Jane Dittmar

World Trade Center (WTC) Exposures Follow-up. If you were a responder to the WTC attacks and subsequent cleanup, Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City’s health commissioner, recommends that you follow up with your physician to assess the potential long-term physical and mental effects. Research has indicated that the inhalation of toxins and the stress to which responders may have been exposed have also heightened the risk of developing heart disease years after the exposures. The rates of respiratory disease and bronchitis are also higher in WTC responders.

Biomarkers May Signal Decline in Lung Function in Firefighter Responders to WTC. On another front, researchers at New York  University’s (NYU’s) Langone Medical Center report finding a link between specific biomarkers and decline in lung function in 9/11 firefighter responders. Serum samples stored in a freezer at a NYU laboratory may enable researchers to predict health outcomes of firefighters exposed to WTC dust, according to a November press release. According to Dr. Anna Nolan of the NYU Langone Medical Center, the firefighter subjects in this study had normal lung function before 9/11. They had their serum banked within five to six months of exposure. They were tracked annually, and the biomarkers, found within six months, enabled the researchers to predict the eventual loss of lung function seven years later. Researcher are hopeful that these findings will enable them to treat affected firefighters (and eventually other people as well) earlier. The researchers say they must verify these findings with larger populations. They said they had taken samples from about 8,000 additional Fire Department of New York firefighters and plan to examine them as well.

Trichloroethylene (TCE), Perchloroethylene (PERC), Carbon Tetrachloride (CCI4) Exposures and Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Several studies have reported that exposure to solvents may increase the risk of PD, a neurodegenerative disease, but research that assesses specific substances is limited. The Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, California, conducted this study that examined the association between PD and the above solvents; Dr. Samuel Goldman and Dr. Caroline Tanner headed the research.

The study team interviewed 99 pairs of twins from the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council World War II Veteran Twins Cohort in which one twin had PD and one didn’t. The subjects were questioned about their lifetime occupations and hobbies. This study is the first to report a more than sixfold increased risk between TCE exposure and PD. A link was also observed between PD and exposures to PERC and CCI4. Symptoms of PD include limb tremors, slowed movement, muscle stiffness, and speech impairment. The full report is published in Annals of Neurology, a journal published by Wiley-Blackwell for the American Neurological Association and Child Neurology Society. Dawn Peters, (781) 388-8408,

These findings illustrate once again how vital it is to wear your respiratory protection and to know to what substances/chemicals you are being exposed in your response areas. Note them in your preplans.

Additional Steps to Preserving Lung Function. If you are concerned about the health of your lungs or have respiratory problems such as allergies and asthma, you may be able to protect yourself from additional problems by avoiding the use of scented candles, air freshener sprays, plug-in deodorizers, and diffusers.

According to scientists from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic, the chemical additives in these products can trigger allergies, asthma, and other health problems. An allergist from Emory University, who helped with the study, says data show that the lung function of asthmatics changes when they are exposed to the ingredients in these compounds.

Many scented air freshener products contain volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, benzyl alcohol, camphor, dichlorobenzene, ethanol, naphthalene, phenol and pinene.  For additional information, see the following Natural Resources Defense Council report, which includes test results from several brands of popular household air freshener products, at – Jonathan Benson, staff writer,

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Federal Drug Administration (FDA) Warnings. Fluoroquinolones, including Levaquin. Taking these antibiotics can cause tendinopathy and tendon rupture in patients of all ages. The risk is even higher in patients usually over to year of age and those taking corticosteroid drugs and those with kidney, heart, and lung transplants. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has modified the “Warnings” and “Precautions” on the product box. Consult with your physician if you are taking this medication or if it is prescribed in the future.







Zofran (ondansetron, ondansetron hydrochloride, and generics). This antinausea drug (a 5-HT3 receptor antagonist) may increase the risk of developing prolongation of the QT interval of the electrocardiogram, which can lead to an abnormal and potentially fatal heart rhythm, including Torsade de Pointes. The latter effect can occur especially in persons with underlying heart conditions, such as congenital long QT syndrome, those predisposed to low levels of potassium and magnesium in the blood, and those taking other medications that lead to QT prolongation.

The FDA is requiring GlaxoSmithKline to conduct a thorough QT study to determine the degree to which Zofran may cause QT interval prolongation. Product labels have been revised to include a warning to avoid use in patients with congenital long QT syndrome and to use ECG monitoring in patients with electrolyte abnormalities, congestive heart failure, and bradyarrhythmias. Additional information is at Click on MedWatch: SafetyAlert. Search for the name of the product.


Mary Jane Dittmar is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and conference manager of FDIC. Before joining the magazine in January 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism and a master’s degree in communication arts.


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