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Breathing Problems Detected At WTC - 400 workers display similar symptoms
By Margaret Ramirez, Newsday Staff Writer, March 2, 2002

    More than 400 day laborers, building maintenance workers and housekeepers who were examined at a Ground Zero medical van are suffering nearly identical symptoms of respiratory distress related to toxic substances in World Trade Center dust and debris.
    The preliminary results came Friday from medical staff of the mobile unit on their last day of operation. Since Jan. 15, the medical van parked at Broadway and Barclay Street in lower Manhattan has been providing free examinations for cleanup workers who scoured soot-filled offices and apartment buildings in the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
    Dr. Ekaterina Malievskaia, who examined most of the workers at the van, said hundreds reported the same symptoms including persistent coughs with phlegm, chest and sinus congestion, and the complaint repeated over and over: "My lungs hurt."
    "They have common symptoms, which is really quite remarkable given the variety of workers that we saw," said Malievskaia, an internist at Queens College. "We need to do more detailed analysis. But, given the significant number of people who reported the same symptoms, we can only assume it is related to exposure at the site."
    The medical van was established jointly by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, the Queens College Center for the Biology of Natural Systems and the Latin American Worker's Project.
    The van was designed mainly to serve the many immigrant workers who were hired to clean up the site without receiving respiratory protection or safety training. All workers who visit the van are given respirators.
    The committee's Jose Roberto Tobar said medical results from the van could eventually be used to build worker's compensation cases against employers who failed to protect workers.
    Malievskaia said the other symptoms - including headaches, fatigue, dizziness and nausea - could possibly be traced to a specific contaminant in the dust or air. Until further analysis of blood and urine is done, however, those symptoms have no explanation. Malievskaia, along with Dr. Steven Markowitz, expects final results at the end of April.
    A 54-year-old worker who identified himself as Manuel was at the van for an examination Friday morning and said he was suffering from a lung irritation and a mysterious urinary infection. "I knew there was a risk when I took the job to clean up Ground Zero. But, I never realized the magnitude," said Manuel, who emigrated from Ecuador.
    Barbara Young was a live-in housekeeper for a family who lived in lower Manhattan. She said that after Sept. 11, her employers pressed her to clean up their dusty apartment so they could move back within a week. Soon after, she came down with a cough that still keeps her up at night.
    In November, Young left her job working for the family and moved into her daughter Jillian's Corona apartment. "I don't worry about the health problems much. But, I still get emotional when I think about that day. I saw everything." At that, she broke down and wept.

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