Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article|
Senate eyes Trade
The Associated Press, February 11,
While crews at the World
Trade Center site now use respirators, many of the first to respond right after Sept. 11
did not have them. Researchers say that is a key factor in respiratory illnesses reported
since then. Amid conflicting reports about whether the air around New Yorks Ground
Zero is sickening firefighters and nearby residents, senators on Monday called in health
and environmental officials to brief them on the latest studies.
"WEVE BEEN hearing so many conflicting stories, and we have
to find out exactly what the facts are," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., told
NBCs "Today" show. The Environmental Protection Agency has responsibility
for outdoor air, but Clinton noted that other agencies, both local and federal, also have
a role and that sorting out responsibility is part of the problem. "I think we need
better coordination" among agencies, she said. "I dont fault
Officials from those agencies were expected to testify at a hearing
Monday called by the Senate Environment Committees subcommittee on clean air.
Clinton suggested a plan to take care of the health needs of any stricken workers and
residents; adopt better cleanup standards; create a long-term health tracking system; and
learn how to avoid similar problems in the future.
Among the pollutants that escaped from the 1.2 million tons of debris
at Ground Zero are asbestos, benzene, dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. These
are linked to cancer, although experts said in many cases the exposures were low enough
that the risk appears to be small. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, respiratory problems have
been reported around Ground Zero, including whats become called the "World
Trade Center cough."
A New York City Fire Department lung specialist said that of the 8,000
people examined so far, those who worked in the first days after the attacks showed the
most serious respiratory symptoms. Overall, the specialist said, some 25 percent of the
11,500 firefighters who responded have reported some type of symptom, either shortness of
breath, weakness, coughs or stress. A few hundred are on medical leave or working light
duty as a result. And some 30 firefighters have started the retirement process, some
because existing respiratory problems were made worse.
Researchers say a major factor has been the failure of many rescue
workers to wear respirators in the first days after the attacks. Fire officials
acknowledge that there werent enough to go around early on, given that so many
off-duty firefighters and volunteers responded. New York city could eventually face
lawsuits. One attorney has filed legal papers to preserve the right of more than 700
firefighters with respiratory symptoms to sue the city later on.
Cleanup workers have also reported health problems, and a mobile health
clinic for day laborers opened for business last month. The clinic provides health
screenings as well as properly fitting respirators to hundreds of workers, mainly
immigrants without health insurance.
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