Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Ailments still plague 9/11 search and rescue team: Local clinic to test those with health problems as part of study
By Malaika Fraley, San Mateo County Times Staff Writer, September 11, 2004

MENLO PARK -- A Redwood City clinic has begun monitoring health problems suffered by members of an elite search and rescue team that helped out at the World Trade Center site in the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Maladies ranging from bloody noses to pneumonia have been plaguing at least 10 members of California Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 3, said Task Force Leader Capt. Harold Schapelhouman, a division chief with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

There could be others with health problems, but not everyone who was there wants to be part of the study Schapelhouman launched in June at Redwood City's Workforce Medical Center.

The task force, based out of Menlo Park, is composed of 210 firefighters and civilian professionals who work for agencies between South San Francisco and San Jose and live throughout the Bay Area.

It is one of eight California Office of Emergency Services teams and one of 28 teams for the U.S. Office of Homeland Security. In addition to ground zero, its members -- up to 70 at a time -- have been sent to disaster sites including the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 2003 Columbia space shuttle crash.

Members have recently provided security at the G8 Summit and Democratic and national conventions, before moving on to southern states hit by hurricanes Charlie, Frances and Ivan.

Sixty-seven members of Task Force 3 worked 20-hour days digging through what was dubbed "The Pile" at ground zero. When they returned from their 13-day stay, 70 percent of them were ill, Schapelhouman said. There

were bloody noses, coughed-up blood, and a number of respiratory infections. Six or seven of them caught pneumonia and around 20 complained of a dry cough that was termed the "WTC cough."

Earlier this month, the Redwood City clinic finished assessing the health of task force members like Schapelhouman, who sometimes starts wheezing and goes into spasms when he coughs or laughs.

The data is being forwarded to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, which has established a database of symptoms experienced by East Coast rescue workers.

"The big question for us is, are we being overly paranoid, or was it a pre-existing condition or something related to the event," Schapelhouman said. "We don't have all the answers.

"They are still trying to reach a level of understanding to what we were exposed to," he said.

There were two studies conducted on the airborne toxins sampled from ground zero, one by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and one by the University of California, Davis.

"The Davis study said the silicon matter was so fine, the respiratory equipment couldn't protect you. The EPA study said everything's fine," Schapelhouman said. "What survey do I believe?"

The next step, Schapelhouman said, is negotiating a long-term analysis at the Redwood City clinic in conjunction with the Mount Sinai study.

"We are essentially guinea pigs," Schapelhouman said. "They'll be monitoring us for the rest of our lives."

Learn more about Task Force 3 at

Staff writer Malaika Fraley can be reached at (650) 348-4337 or by e-mail at .,1413,87~11268~2395083,00.html#


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