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L.A. Firefighters Trace Illnesses to Trade Center

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the five months since they helped in the search at the World Trade Center, 25 Los Angeles firefighters have filed workers’ compensation claims for respiratory problems they say that work caused.

Most of the firefighters have significantly recovered with treatment by specialists, but a few have lingering problems, including coughing, throat irritation and breathing difficulties, said Capt. Edward Bushman, the department’s medical liaison officer.

“I would say it was [caused by] the particulate matter in the area at ground zero, including silica from the glass that was pulverized when the buildings collapsed and the pulverized concrete, as well as smoke,” Bushman said.

Not all of the 93 Los Angeles firefighters who helped in New York for 10 days in September have health problems.

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But some, like Don Forrest, still have daily coughing attacks.

“I’m still coughing every morning for about half an hour,” said Forrest, a 40-year veteran of the Fire Department. “It’s a cause for concern, because it has lingered for some five months now.”

Others continue to have problems when they are exposed to smoke or other irritants, Bushman said. All the firefighters are back on the job, although many missed work as they recovered, he said.

Forrest said his doctor told him the throat irritation and coughing will pass, but he and other firefighters who went to ground zero still are waiting for final reports on what kinds of toxic chemicals they encountered.

Because there was not enough breathing equipment for all searchers, Forrest said, he and other firefighters wore only dust masks.

The workers’ compensation claims have allowed the firefighters’ treatment to be paid for by the city, which plans to ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement .

This week, more than 1,300 people, mostly rescue workers, notified New York City that they may sue for damages stemming from their work at the World Trade Center. Their claims are a first step before lawsuits can be filed.

On Monday, a team of California scientists reported that air samples collected about a mile from the World Trade Center in the weeks after the terrorist attacks found extremely high levels of tiny particles laced with soot and metals.

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