Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

WTC Minority Workers' Ills Persist
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.

This article contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of democracy, economic, environmental, human rights, political, scientific, and social justice issues, among others. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this article is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.

Take me back to learn more