Twin Tower fumes choke western Queens residents

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As the air in western Queens became visibly clouded with fumes from the World Trade Center disaster last week, respiratory ailments took their toll on teachers in Long Island City but failed to prompt any residents to seek treatment at borough hospitals.

At Queens Vocational High School in Long Island City, one teacher said the air outside was filled “with so much smoke you could hardly see” when classes resumed last Thursday.

“As soon as you get out of your car, it strangulates you,” she said.

The teacher, who chose not to be named, said a number of teachers fell ill and had to return home as a result of poor air quality in and around the school, which forced her to visit a Long Island hospital for treatment.

“Everyone at the hospital thinks I’ve been at the site, ground zero, because I’ve had similar symptoms to people who were caught in the blast,” she said.

Officials at area hospitals said they did not see any patients who complained about respiratory problems caused by local air quality, which visibly worsened in Queens last Thursday but improved after Friday’s rain shower.

“We were worried about it yesterday,” Elmhurst Hospital spokesman Dario Centorcelli said Friday. “We started gearing up to expect it, and nothing happened.”

Centorcelli said the area had been covered by a haze that “smelled like burning insulation.”

At Mount Sinai Hospital of Queens in Astoria, patients did not come in for respiratory ailments despite the staff’s widespread observation that the air was causing breathing problems.

“We’ve had a lot of people complaining about the air quality, but not people who’ve actually been seeking treatment,” said hospital spokeswoman Kathy Rubenstein.

Although the air quality in Queens did not send anyone to the emergency room, both hospitals treated patients who had inhaled fumes while in Manhattan — 57 at Elmhurst Hospital, and 13 at Mount Sinai.

Area doctors in private practice, such as Dr. Reno DiScala in Astoria, did not treat any patients complaining about air quality in Queens.

“So far it’s been pretty quiet, which is surprising, though,” said DiScala, who said he would have expected asthmatics to experience difficulties “when the air quality was kind of rancid” last Thursday.

“Many of these people at home already are receiving therapies, so they kind of self-treat,” he said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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