— The Bush administration has been criticised for ignoring the health problems suffered by New York residents following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre five years ago, and by volunteers and responders working at ground zero.
A study by doctors at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York has found the health problems suffered by responders and residents are more serious, persistent and widespread than previously thought. Many have no health insurance.
An estimated 40,000 rescue and recovery workers were exposed to caustic dust and airborne toxic pollutants following 9/11, says Philip Landrigan, of the department of community and preventative medicine at Mount Sinai.
The study is the largest conducted so far, involving 9500 workers at ground zero. It found that almost 70% of these had a new or substantially worsened respiratory problem as a result of breathing in dust from the collapsed buildings. One-third had diminished lung capacity. (See also CT scans explain mysterious 9/11 cough).
The study also found that the earlier responders arrived at ground zero, the greater their exposure to harmful chemicals and the greater the likelihood of respiratory illness. Some 70% of the responders screened by Mount Sinai arrived at the site between 11 and 13 September.
The results, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, will increase calls for the federal government to provide free healthcare for workers who did not have health insurance.
Robin Herbert, co-director of the Mount Sinai Medical Center, told the New York Times that 40% of responders had no health insurance.
The federal government has said that by the end of October 2006, health programmes related to September 11 would receive $75 million. At a congressional subcommittee hearing in September, Republican New York senators Carolyn Maloney and Vito Fossella said that is a good start but is nowhere near enough to provide adequate treatment for those suffering from respiratory disorders, gastrointestinal disease and mental health problems.
Mount Sinai say that a report on mental health effects of ground zero workers will also be released soon.
Fossella said the government had not done even basic work to record how many workers and volunteers took part in the cleanup process. A Democrat New York senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, said the Environmental Protection Agency had deliberately misled people into thinking it was safe to return to their homes around ground zero , when the air was not safe to breathe.
President Bush will lead memorial services on Monday at the 16-acre ground zero site. Fire-fighters and police officers will begin a cycle ride from New York to California in memory of their fallen colleagues.
This evening, the Tribute in Light memorial will be illuminated. Created by artists Julian LaVerdiere and Paul Myoda, the memorial consists of twin beams of light projected by 44 searchlights on two platforms.
Journal reference: Environmental Health Perspectives (DOI: 10.1289/ehp.9592)