N.Y., Conn. Reps. File Ground Zero Worker Health Bill

March 31, 2004

U.S. Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Christopher Shays (R-CT) have filed legislation they say will significantly improve the way the federal government has responded to the health care needs of September 11 rescue and recovery workers and residents who live around the World Trade Center site.

Joining Maloney and Shays in announcing the legislation were a number of Ground Zero responders, downtown residents, medical experts, and September 11 family members who detailed the health problems and offered examples of individuals who are still facing difficulties receiving treatment.

New York City Council Members Alan Gerson and Christine Quinn also participated in the event.

Congresswoman Maloney said, “When thousands of laborers, police officers, firefighters, and rescue workers raced to Ground Zero after the September 11th attacks, the entire nation recognized their courage and heroism, but the federal response to fund medical programs that could monitor and treat the long term health needs of these responders has been seriously lacking. Any time you have over 4,000 people sick from one event it should be treated as a national health emergency, but the lack of federal coordination, delays in funding, and total absence of aid for treatment shows a shameful neglect of September 11 health issues in Washington. We hope to change that with this legislation.”

Congressman Shays said, “As we saw with Gulf War veterans of Operation Desert Storm, Ground Zero veterans can suffer the delayed injuries cause by toxic exposures. Federal, State and local health systems have to be vigilant in diagnosing and treating those wounds, but so far the response has lacked the coordination and sense of urgency required to meet existing health needs effectively.”

The legislation emerged out of Congressional hearings held in New York City last September by Congressman Shays, who chairs the Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations, and by Congresswoman Maloney. That hearing was the first time that the full extent of September 11 health injuries was first reported officially to Congress.

The Mount Sinai Medical Center for Occupational & Environmental Medicine reported that approximately half of the 9,229 rescue and recovery workers screened so far had long-term respiratory illness or injury related to the response effort, and that over 3,500 eligible Ground Zero responders may be unable to be screened under current program resources. This program does not include the thousands of New York City firefighters involved in the response, because the FDNY has a separate program for monitoring the health of its 9/11 responders. The FDNY has reported, however, that more than 300 firefighters have filed for early retirement as a result of significant health problems related to the 9/11 response. Over 40,000 individuals are estimated to have participated in rescue and recovery operations at Ground Zero.

Among ther victims hoping the legislation passes is Mike Dempsey. “I was one of the many injured survivors at the World Trade Center site on 9/11. I was also exposed to the debris cloud which resulted from the collapse of Tower 2 while in an outdoor courtyard wing of the emergency room at NYU Downtown Hospital. I have suffered since 9/11 from an affliction called Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome (RADS) and have been given no prognosis from medical practitioners on the long-term effects of RADS.”

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