The 9/11 illnesses

September 08, 2006

A new study shows how right the workers were — They were dying on their feet, laboring for breath, coughing up bits of junk, collapsing from fatigue, slowly suffocating. When the New York police officers, firefighters and transit workers started showing such symptoms, they didn't know their illnesses stemmed from the hours they spent among the rubble and remains of 9/11. Some suspected, but their health concerns were ignored by the very agencies that sent them into harm's way.

A new study shows how right the workers were - and how badly they have been treated.

Researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York have documented the impact of that toxic environment. Their findings show that the dust and elements that fouled the air after the World Trade Center collapsed have compromised the health of public safety workers who were on the scene - some fatally. The nearly 10,000 workers tested from 2002 through 2004 said they had trouble breathing or suffered more intense problems after they began working at the site.

The effects of that polluted environment can't be underestimated: Irritating coughs have become debilitating, chronic illnesses. Governments and employers have an obligation - a moral duty - to attend to these workers who waded into the morass of pulverized steel and concrete.

They should be cared for like any other worker hurt on the job. If this isn't a classic case of worker's compensation, what would be? The problem, and we have seen it before, is government's reluctance to affirm an illness because of the costs associated with it. But if the governments - or other employers -expect their employees to act responsibly when faced with a terrorist attack or major disaster, they must recognize their responsibility to those employees as well.

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