Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Registry to Track People Exposed to WTC Collapse
Environment News Service, July 18, 2002

    NEW YORK, New York (ENS) - State and federal agencies are creating a registry of people who may have been exposed to the World Trade Center site, either from working, living, or cleaning up in the area affected by the disaster caused by the terrorist strikes of September 11. The registry will track the health of the 100,000 to 200,000 people exposed to substances emanating from the collapse and cleanup of the World Trade Center to help determine whether their exposure has any relationship to short term or long term health problems they may experience.
    The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), an Atlanta based environmental public health agency under the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), will assist the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in creating the registry, which is expected to launch in late fall 2002.
ATSDR spokesman John Florence says it will be the largest registry the agency has ever created, 10 to 20 times larger than all existing ATSDR registries combined.
    People sign up for the registry voluntarily. Once found eligible, they are followed over the long term, for as long as 30 years, said Florence, "to document health concerns and illnesses that have come up throughout their life, not only self reported but also confirmed through their medical records."
    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing $20 million to HHS to establish the registry. "FEMA is fully committed to funding the establishment of this registry," said World Trade Center federal recovery officer Brad Gair. "Among the issues of greatest importance is the health of those who were in the vicinity of the World Trade Center after the buildings collapsed."
    "Tracking and monitoring the potential long term effects is essential for area residents and office workers as well as for the first responders, volunteers and those who worked so diligently in victim recovery and debris removal operations at Ground Zero," Gair said.
    Dr. Henry Falk, ATSDR assistant administrator, said, "We are currently working in partnership with the New York City Department of Health to determine the details of the registry. We anticipate releasing more information on the registry and how people can participate by the end of the summer."
    The New York Committee for Occupational Health and Safety, a non-profit coalition of 200 local unions and individual workers, physicians, and lawyers says that since the attack on the World Trade Center, workers, residents and students in Lower Manhattan have been exposed to dust that is contaminated with asbestos, fiberglass, lead, highly alkaline concrete dust, and many other toxic substances.
    In the most thorough study yet of the dust and smoke blown through lower Manhattan after the collapse of the World Trade Center, researchers at University of California-Davis found unprecedented amounts of very fine particles of such substances as sulfates, silicon and metals.
    “No one has ever reported a situation like the one we see in the World Trade Center samples,” said UC Davis physicist Thomas Cahill, an international authority on airborne particles. “The air from Ground Zero was laden with extremely high amounts of very small particles, probably associated with high temperatures in the underground debris pile." "The mass of particles in the very fine mode on October 3, in particular, at our sampling site was by far the highest we have ever seen or seen published," said Cahill, a professor emeritus of physics and atmospheric sciences who has studied air pollution around the world. "It exceeded levels recorded during the oil fires in Kuwait and in downtown Beijing during the coal heating season," he said.
    The very fine particles were high in a number of species generally associated with combustion of fuel oil, such as sulfur, vanadium, and nickel, and incineration of plastics and other organic matter. Dr. Cahill said, "Some, such as vanadium, were the highest that we have seen recorded."
    Numerous city, state and federal agencies, andprivate organizations have been working to rebuild Lower Manhattan in the wake of September 11th, but to date, there is no central, authoritative resource for information affecting residents, businesses, tourists, those involved in redevelopment efforts as well as the families of September 11th victims.
    City officials now plan to create one comprehensive source for essential information about Lower Manhattan. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation chairman John Whitehead and Daniel Doctoroff, deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, announced the information campaign July 3.
A website, a newsletter and other communications tools will deliver information about air quality, traffic and street conditions, rebuilding milestones, construction plans, area events and assistance programs. The campaign will coordinate information from city, state, and federal agencies and non-governmental entities.
    Doctoroff said, "Our goal is to keep the public updated on the latest breaking news regarding important issues like air quality, security concerns, transportation changes, and the process by which they can play a part in the rebuilding of downtown.
    A special effort will be made to reach non-English speaking segments of the Lower Manhattan population, particularly in Chinatown. The information website is expected to be available in late summer.


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