World Trade Center Rescue Workers Sickened by Toxic Dust Still Struggle for Help

Six years after the World Trade Center attacks, thousands of emergency workers continue to struggle with illnesses related to the toxic dust that blanketed Ground Zero and much of Lower Manhattan. But even though numerous studies have found that <"">World Trade Center rescue workers have a high rate of respiratory and other diseases, many of them have been unable to secure workers compensation, disability and other benefits normally granted to those injured on the job. Now, advocates for these heroes are calling on the federal government to come up with a plan to help those still suffering from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

About 40,000 people helped with the rescue and cleanup efforts at Ground Zero in the weeks following the terrorist attacks. Now many of them are faced with chronic respiratory, gastrointestinal and mental health problems. A study by the Mt. Sinai Medical Center found that of 9,000 emergency workers, 70-percent had suffered some type of lung ailment after the attacks, and that 60-percent still faced respiratory problems. In May the FDNY reported that cases of the rare lung disease sarcoidosis had risen dramatically among firefighters and EMS workers who had spent time at Ground Zero. And the New York City Department of Health recently found that one in eight first responders still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These types of health problems have left many World Trade Center rescue workers unable to work. The high medical bills that have resulted from their conditions have only added to their financial and personal hardships.

But even though their World Trade Center illnesses are well documented, many rescue workers cannot get the financial help they need. According to the New York State Compensation Board, the denial rate for workers compensation claims filed by World Trade Center rescuers is 76 percent higher than for other claims. About 30 percent of claims filed by World Trade Center first responders were turned down this year, while the rate of denials of most other claims is around 17 percent.

And 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. Two bills currently in Congress would provide more than $100 million in additional funding to aid rescue workers, bringing the total to $277 million. But much more may be needed. 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.

Fortunately, Congress is set to begin considering such a program. On September 18, the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee will begin hearings on the medical monitoring and treatment of 9/11 first responders. Rescue workers and their advocates are hoping that the hearings will increase support for government programs that will provide much needed help to those still suffering from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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