Reports Show 9/11 World Trade Center Cleanup Workers Have Persistent Health Problems
NEW YORK, NY -- September 17, 2004 -- Almost half of 1,000 screened rescue workers and volunteers who responded to the attacks at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, have chronic respiratory problems and more than half now have psychological problems, according to a study funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These workers are four times more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder than the general population. They also reported lower back pain, eye irritation, and frequent headaches.
The study was based on medical examinations and surveys of 1,138 volunteers enrolled in the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program conducted by Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. The program has provided free standardized medical assessments, clinical referrals and occupational health education to about 12,000 workers and volunteers. Only 21% of these participants had appropriate respiratory protection during the week following the September 11th tragedy. They were exposed to asbestos, dust, diesel exhaust, pulverized cement, glass fibers, and other contaminants.
Just days before the CDC study was released, a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also commented on the health of those involved in the World Trade Center cleanup. The GAO report confirmed that first responders and many people living near the area suffer from wheezing, shortness of breath, sinusitis, asthma, depression, and a new syndrome called World Trade Center cough, which consists of persistent coughing and severe respiratory symptoms. Almost all the firefighters who responded to the attack experienced respiratory problems and hundreds had to end their firefighting careers.
Workers Face Even More Serious Illnesses from 9/11 in the Years Ahead
The Mount Sinai program was one of six screening programs for firefighters, police officers, cleanup crews, and other emergency workers who labored near Ground Zero. None of the six screening programs provide medical treatment, and all will expire by the end of 2009. The programs vary in terms of which people are eligible to participate, methods for collecting health information, and options for treatment referral, according to the GAO report. The WTC Health Registry, which is the largest study, is open to people who were living, working, or present in the area of the World Trade Center in addition to those who took part in the actual cleanup.
The long-term health effects of the disaster may not appear until several decades after exposure to the debris and contaminants, the GAO reports points out, and therefore the programs are ending too soon to capture critical information. "In this witches' brew of airborne materials found at and near Ground Zero were a number of carcinogens, including asbestos and the ...cancer-causing chemical in tobacco smoke," Dr. Stephen Levin, who headed the Mt. Sinai study, commented (CNN, September 8, 2004). Lung cancer takes years to develop. Diseases specifically related to asbestos such as asbestosis and the cancer mesothelioma may not be apparent until 40 years or more after exposure.
"The full health impact of the attack is unknown," the GAO report concluded. That sentiment was echoed by others who testified before a House subcommittee last week on the health effects of 9/11. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes the World Trade Center site, criticized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other government groups for failing to follow proper procedures to protect the people of New York City. "The EPA has never properly tracked the release of hazardous substances and characterized the site to determine who has been exposed, what they were exposed to, and the full extent of how far this contamination has spread," he said (Press Release, September 8, 2004). "The federal government should cover the actual medical treatment of those in need. We must do more than just a screening program...It troubles me that it has been almost three years since the attacks, and we have made so little progress in helping people recover physically and mentally from the attacks."
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told the public that the air in New York City was safe to breathe just a week after the events of September 11, 2001, although it did not have sufficient data to make that statement, according to a report last year by the agency's own inspector general. Although the EPA warned people working directly on the cleanup to wear protective masks, it claimed that the dust that settled over a wider area included only low levels of asbestos and was not harmful (see EPA Downplayed Post-9/11 Asbestos and Other Safety Hazards in NYC). The agency continues to hold that position, according to a New York Times report (September 8, 2004).
At Brayton Purcell, we are concerned about the problems of asbestos exposure in New York and elsewhere. If you have a question about asbestos exposure and your legal rights, you should consider a qualified asbestos attorney to discuss your legal options. We have extensive experience in handling cases concerning asbestos and other toxic pollutants.