9/11 Sick and Injured Describe Ongoing Health and Financial Struggles

A coalition of Ground Zero first responders, area residents, medical experts, and public offials met at Penn Station, before a trip to Washington, D.C. to speak directly to members of Congress to urge Washington leaders to improve the federal response to the lasting and significant health impacts of 9/11.

Specifically, the group focused on the need for Congress and the president to publicly acknowledge the long-term scope and and Volunteer Medical Monitoring Program, provide safety-net health treatment for those sick and injured from 9/11 but without adequate health insurance, and make the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund available to those whose illness or injury from 9/11 is emerging or growing worse over time, and for those who were never properly informed that they were eligible for compensation.

"The federal government is failing in its response to the 9/11 health emergency, people are suffering as a result, and time is slipping away to deliver needed help to first responders and those who live and work around Ground Zero," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y..

The EPA failed to protect thousands of people's health following the attacks on 9/11, believes Rep. Jerold Nadler, D-N.Y. "The president must pursue the only appropriate course of action in the face of such negligence: the federal government must take responsibility for the care of these victims, and the EPA must take concrete action to prevent even more illness by properly monitoring and controlling further demolition at Ground Zero," he added.

Dr. Stephen Levin, MD, medical director of the Mount Sinai Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, said his facility continues to see patients with serious and persistent upper respiratory, lower respiratory, mental health and other effects. "Much more remains critically needed to support the comprehensive evaluation and treatment of World Trade Center responders, and others," said Levine, adding, "all those who today and possibly in the future find themselves seriously ill as a result of the September 2001 terrorist attacks."

A member of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 15, described the injuries he sustained during the rescue, recovery and clean-up of 9/11. He claimed that due to the amount of dust, smoke and toxic chemicals released after the collapse of the WTC, the paper dust mask, which was all the protection given to him, was "useless." As a result of his exposure, he added, he became ill and in February 2002, he was hospitalized.

"Soon after, I was diagnosed with Restrictive Airway Disease, Hepatitis C, Sinusitis and Gastric Reflux Disease," he said. "And due to the pressure caused by the impacted sinuses, my left ear drum collapsed causing hearing loss and a constant ringing sound. I had always been healthy and active but when I was diagnosed with all of these medical problems, depression set in and it too required medical attention."

Joel Shufro, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, noted that in addition to providing health care for all the workers and the residents who are sick because they were exposed to 9/11-related contamination, efforts must be made to ensure that no one is exposed to toxic material in the future. "There are at lease three buildings near the WTC that must be demolished because they were so badly contaminated on 9/11," Shufro pointed out. "The workers who do the demolition and everyone who lives near the buildings are going to be at risk of exposure the toxic contamination. In order to make certain that the no new exposure takes place, these unprecedented demolition jobs must be performed with the utmost care."

He said it is essential that EPA and OSHA take the initiative to closely oversee the work. "If they fail to do so, and workers and residents are unnecessarily exposed, the government agencies will not be able to say that they weren't aware of the hazard until it was too late," said Shufro.

Maloney's office has compiled a summary of recent medical findings about ongoing 9/11 health effects, which can be accessed at www.house.gov/maloney/issues/Sept11/020105researchsummary.pdf.

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