World Trade Center Rescue Workers Health Problems Extend Beyond First Responders

World Trade Center first responders are not the only people suffering physical and mental health problems as a result of their work at Ground Zero following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Thousands of <"">World Trade Center Emergency Workers who helped with recovery efforts in the days, weeks and months after the Twin Towers fell might also be coping with a wide variety of physical and emotional problems, says a study published in the November issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

In the days after 9/11, thousands of rescue workers descended on Ground Zero to help with recovery efforts. Sifting through dust and rubble, sometimes with their bare hands, many lacked the clothing and equipment that could have kept them safe from harm. Several studies earlier this year confirmed that Ground Zero first responders were suffering from ill health as a result of their exposure to toxic dust at the site. Released in May, the initial findings of a three-year study conducted by the Mt. Sinai Medical Center found that of the 9,000 WTC first responders examined, 70-percent had suffered some type of lung ailment after the attacks, and that 60-percent still faced respiratory problems. Another report released by the FDNY in early May reported that cases of the rare lung disease sarcoidosis had risen dramatically among firefighters and EMS workers who were first responders at Ground Zero. And the New York City Department of Health also found that one in eight first responders still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Now, the New York State Department of Health has released findings of a study that investigated the health consequences suffered by 1,423 members of the New York State Police, National Guard and Department of Transportation who worked at Ground Zero following the attacks. A small number of study participants – 110 in all – where present at Ground Zero immediately after the attacks, and where caught up in the toxic dust cloud that was created when the Twin Towers collapsed. But the vast majority of the study participants worked at Ground Zero during the last two weeks of September 2001, and they would have had somewhat less exposure to toxic dust than World Trade Center first responders. Unfortunately, according to the New York State Department of Health’s study, lessened exposure did not translate into fewer health problems.

The New York State Department of Health evaluated these World Trade Center rescue workers in 2002-2003. While the 110 rescue workers who where present at Ground Zero on September 11 reported the most frequent and severe mental and physical symptoms, such problems where the norm in far too many study participants. Nearly half had respiratory symptoms, with 30 percent reporting a dry cough. A third of the Ground Zero rescue workers reported worsening psychological problems, including sleep problems, fatigue and irritability. Unfortunately, only 3% of the World Trade Center rescue workers who participated in the study reported seeking treatment for their health problems.

Advocates for Ground Zero rescue workers say that even the federal government has not done enough to ease the suffering caused by the World Trade Center toxic dust. Public health authorities are already bracing for what might be the next wave of health problems related to the 9/11 tragedy – a surge in cancer and cancer-related deaths among rescue workers. Advocates for the workers estimate that the cost of caring for them could eventually reach $393 million each year. They want the federal government to formulate a long-term plan to monitor the health of September 11 rescue workers. Such a program would allow 9/11 rescue workers to receive health screenings and treatment at government expense.

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