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September 11th Revisited

New health study on rescue workers is released

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Lucio Solis, a day laborer at Ground Zero, takes a breathing test.
Lucio Solis, a day laborer involved with the clean-up of buildings near Ground Zero, takes a breathing test on January 15, 2002.

By Tiffany Chaparro

September 8, 2006

A new study published this week links the dirty air at Ground Zero after the September 11th attacks to lung problems of many rescue workers. In the largest study to date, doctors at Mount Sinai Medical Center found almost 70 percent of rescue workers exposed to the polluted air at the site soon became sick.

“These results today confirm our worst fears,” said Dr. James Melius at a recent press conference. Melius runs the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program Advisory Committee.

After the buildings fell, the air in the area was filled with particles of glass and concrete. The particles looked just like dust. Many workers breathed in the particles, damaging their lungs. Some of the workers had even more lung damage because they were not wearing breathing masks to help filter the air.

The study is based on medical exams for 9,442 police, paramedics, construction workers, and other rescue works who worked at the World Trade Center after the buildings fell. The doctors focused on lung related sickness, especially on the “World Trade Center Cough.” The cough was first named that because many of the rescue workers developed bad coughs after 9/11.

Some patients also reported trouble taking normal breaths. Others now suffer from sicknesses like asthma. Almost 60 percent of patients have had these symptoms for up to two and half years after the attacks.

According to doctors, 61 percent of the rescue workers, who had no lung problems prior to working at Ground Zero, now report problems. Doctors are also concerned that many workers will have long-term health problems.

“There should no longer be any doubt about the health effects of the World Trade Center. Our patients are sick,” said Dr. Robin Herbert. Herbert is co-director of the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program at Mt. Sinai.

What Happens Next

U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton is one of the elected officials encouraging the federal government to provide more money for programs to help the rescue workers.

“This study, I hope, puts to rest any doubt about what is happening to those who were exposed,” said Clinton. “This report underscores the need for continued long-term monitoring and treatment options—they go hand in hand.”

Still, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was not sure if the lung problems the rescue workers had were directly related to their work at the World Trade Center site.

“You’ve got to understand that these kinds of health problems that we’re talking about here aren’t a piece of debris falls on you and you are injured,” Bloomberg said. “This is something that over a long period of time develops, and you’re never really sure what the connections between cause and effect are.”

A clinic will eventually be opened near the World Trade Center site. It will offer treatment for uninsured and undocumented workers, who may not be able to afford treatment otherwise. Mayor Bloomberg also said he would push to reopen the Federal Victims Compensation Fund. The fund provided for families who lost loved ones after the attacks.




This year marks the fifth anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001. A group called is encouraging people to remember 9/11 by doing a good deed.

How will you remember 9/11?

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