Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Ground Zero Workers Suffering From 'World Trade Center' Cough
By, September 4, 2003

Two years after the World Trade Center attack, health problems are starting to take center stage. An increasing number of Ground Zero workers and residents continue to struggle with respiratory troubles. The Environmental Protection Agency has come under fire for telling New Yorkers too soon that the air quality was safe.

It has been called the World Trade Center Cough. Workers caught up in 9-11 and its aftermath found themselves coughing up blood, getting frequent nosebleeds and experiencing respiratory problems.

Health experts now believe many of the problems stem from exposure to the enormous cloud of debris that showered lower Manhattan when the twin towers collapsed.

Rich Carroll, a Verizon cable worker, described the massive cloud. "It was like snow, the dust was up to your knees." Carroll worked 13 hour days in the initial weeks following the attack restoring cable for residents. "I would get home and I would feel like it was hard to breathe."

Carroll started having problems shortly after September 11th, and participated in the city's worker and volunteer medical screening program. He's not alone. Clean-up crews, rescue workers, firefighters and residents are still suffering. And health experts don't know the long-term consequences.

Dr. Stephen Levin works at the Mount-Sinai Center For Occupational and Environmental Medicine. "While most of our patients who are in treatment, getting proper treatment are improving, very few people are back to the way they were at before September 11th."

Phil McArdle with the New York City Uniformed Firefighters Association says he has "difficulty with breathing -- there are certain things I can't do anymore that I used to be able to do." McArdle estimates 10 percent of the 10,000 firefighters working are experiencing health problems related to Ground Zero. The EPA, along with New York City's health department reassured workers and residents in the weeks following the attacks that the pollutants swirling in the air were not hazardous.

Lawmakers are questioning whether the EPA did enough testing before giving lower Manhattan a clean bill of health. Rep. Jerrold Nadler-D (New York) charged that "the agency has not done its job last month, the Environmental Protection Agency's Inspector General also second-guessed its own actions in a report.

It concluded the White House urged the EPA to reassure New Yorkers, even though there was evidence of dangerous and potentially deadly pollutants in the air.

The findings outraged U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton who called for Congressional hearings. "Give me a break," she said. "They knew and they didn't tell the truth and the White House told them not to tell us the truth. That information, McArdle says, would have prompted workers to take extra precautions. If you're telling us something is safe and then we find out it is not safe, well then what else are you not telling us that we really should know?"

It is a cloud of suspicion that likely won't clear until the political dust settles.

So far under the medical screening program, more than 6,000 workers and volunteers have been monitored for health problems. The program has just received more funding to test 3,000 to 6,000 others.

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