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WTC Minority Workers'
By Margaret Ramirez, Newsday, April 28, 2002
More than 400 immigrant workers hired to clean buildings near the World
Trade Center site continued to suffer respiratory and other symptoms months after their
first exposure to the dust, a Queens College physician reported yesterday. Dr. Steven
Markowitz, who supervised a medical monitoring van near Ground Zero for two months, gave
preliminary results of examinations of 415 building cleanup workers.
The mobile health unit was a joint project of Queens College's Center
for the Biology of Natural Systems, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and
Health, and the Latin American Workers Project. It was established for immigrant workers
and day laborers hired to clean office buildings near Ground Zero after the Sept. 11
attack on the World Trade Center.
From Jan. 14 to March 1, the van's medical staff offered free health
examinations, which included breathing tests, collection of blood and urine, and
interviews about work history. In late February, nearly all the workers still had health
symptoms, which either first appeared or had worsened after Sept. 11, Markowitz said.
"One of the most striking findings is the persistence in symptoms,
even after they stopped work and were no longer exposed to dust," Markowitz said
during an immigrant labor conference at the CUNY School of Law in Flushing. "Many had
stopped working [near Ground Zero] two months earlier, and when they came to the van, they
still had symptoms."
Generally, he said, most recover quickly after such acute occupational
exposure, and those with persistent symptoms usually are few in number. "That usual
pattern did not happen in this case," Markowitz said.
Of the 415 people examined, almost all were Hispanic immigrants, mainly
from Colombia and Ecuador. Virtually none of the workers have health insurance or a
personal physician. Most workers performed indoor building cleanup for six to 12 weeks
near Ground Zero, Markowitz said, and had stopped working there about two months before
the medical van opened.
In interviews, workers said they were given mops, rags and bags and
told to remove inches of dust that coated the floors, walls and desks in offices. Most
said they were not given protective equipment. Some workers who brought their own
respirators said employers told them not to wear such protection. Markowitz said he
believes such advice was meant to calm workers' fears about inhalation of asbestos.
Symptoms of sick workers fall into two broad categories, he said. Most
had irritation of the upper airways, including chronic cough, coughing up of blood, sore
throat, nasal congestion and chest pain. The respiratory symptoms are attributed to
crushed glass in the dust.
Markowitz said others are more puzzling. Those include headache,
fatigue, dizziness and poor appetite. "We have no idea what substance in the dust is
causing that," Markowitz said.
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