Clean Up Crews Exposed to High Levels of Asbestos and Other Toxic Substances
New York City, NY-August 9, 2002-The Mt. Sinai Medical Center officially opened a federally-funded clinic this week for rescue and recovery workers who labored at Ground Zero at the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island (Newsday, August 5, 2002). During the extended WTC cleanup period, the workers were exposed to a toxic soup of hazardous substances, including asbestos.
Mt. Sinai doctors have been seeing some of the workers as patients since early July, and discovered many instances of bronchitis, asthma, sinusitis, and reactive airways disease. Cases of asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and the cancer mesothelioma often take decades to develop, however, and therefore would not be readily apparent during this short time frame.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing $20 million to create a registry to track the health of cleanup workers in future years. The Centers for Disease Control will maintain the registry, which will include statistics about asbestos-related diseases and other serious, but slowly-developing health problems.
Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) proposed increasing funding for the WTC health program and Mt. Sinai Medical Center by $90 million to continue medical monitoring and treatment of WTC workers. Part of the money will specifically be made available for the health tracking of New York City firefighters who responded to the terrorist attacks on September 11. The funds are expected to cover health and follow-up examinations for 9,500 workers at regular intervals for up to 20 years.
The Clinton proposal is part of a $5 billion emergency spending package passed by Congress. President Bush has until August 31 to decide whether to approve the measure.
"Thousands of workers and volunteers are now suffering from a variety of health problems as a result of their heroic efforts to assist in the recovery and cleanup of the World Trade Center site," Senator Clinton said. "...We have an obligation to provide these courageous men and women with the health screening tools that they require to protect them from serious disease and illness in the future."