Health woes tied to WTC

70% of Ground Zero workers have chronic lung ailments, largest study of attack's effects finds

September 06, 2006|By Luis Perez | Luis Perez,NEWSDAY

NEW YORK -- Five years after Sept. 11, seven of 10 first-responders and workers who toiled at Ground Zero suffer from chronic lung ailments that probably will last the rest of their lives, doctors said yesterday in announcing the largest-ever study of health effects of the attacks.

The study of nearly 9,500 police officers, paramedics, construction workers and others by physicians at Mount Sinai Medical Center offers the first scientific evidence linking Ground Zero dust and debris to those health problems, vindicating doctors and patients who for years had said the connection was undeniable.

The study focused mostly on so-called World Trade Center cough, the main concern of health experts and advocates. Doctors at Mount Sinai also said they expect to find cancer among the study's participants in coming years.

"There should no longer be any doubt about the health effects of the World Trade Center. Our patients are sick," said Dr. Robin Herbert, co-director of the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program at Mount Sinai.

Herbert was joined at a news conference announcing the findings by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn B. Maloney, all New York Democrats; and by other elected officials who said the federal government should create programs to cover the health-related costs of the sick workers.

"We quickly learned that our government was not telling us the truth" after Sept. 11, said Clinton, noting the federal Environmental Protection Agency's now-refuted announcement soon after the terrorist attacks that the air at Ground Zero was safe to breathe.

Clinton said federal funding for monitoring and treating the health problems has been scarce.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg - who in the past has been skeptical of linking conditions at Ground Zero to the physical ailments of city workers - responded cautiously.

"Today, science says that you can't say directly. There is no way to tell for sure, and you've got to be very careful," Bloomberg said. "I haven't seen the Mount Sinai study, but I don't believe that you can say specifically a particular problem came from this particular event."

Bloomberg said the city will open a World Trade Center clinic that will offer treatment at Bellevue Hospital Center, beginning in January, for the uninsured and undocumented workers who think their health troubles stem from Ground Zero.

The study will be published tomorrow in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and online. It finds that those who arrived at the site between Sept. 11 and Sept. 13, 2001, were exposed to higher concentrations of asbestos, pulverized concrete, mercury and other toxins, and have the worst symptoms.

The study examined 9,442 Ground Zero workers between July 2002 and April 2004, including police officers, paramedics, ironworkers, out-of-state emergency responders and other volunteers. All worked at Ground Zero or at the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, where vast amounts of debris were taken.

The study also found that:

Ground Zero workers had lung abnormalities at a rate double that of the general population.

Of those tested who had no health symptoms before the attacks, 61 percent developed problems while working at Ground Zero.

A third of those tested had abnormal lung function at a rate twice that of nonsmokers.

Among those in the audience at yesterday's announcement was John Graham of Paramus, N.J., a paramedic who spent weeks at Ground Zero and has asthma, gastrointestinal disease and severe post-traumatic stress disorder but no workers' compensation benefits.

"I've run a good fight," Graham, 44, told Clinton. "I've fought it, and I'm getting tired. I need help."

Luis Perez writes for Newsday.

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