Ground Zero Workers


According to a story on Newsday.com, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has decided the workers’ cases alleging dust disease from the WTC cleanup can proceed against the Port Authority and New York City.  The defendants argued that they were immune from suit.  Contract workers and emergency workers were brought in to clean up the aftermath of the attack.  They were not properly warned of the dangers lurking in the area, included severe dust hazards.  In addition the workers were not given adequate safety protection for the work environment.  For example, some workers were given dust masks, when the environment cleary mandated they be given fresh air masks.

 Workers exposed to the ground zero dust have died from illnesses related to their exposures.  Even more workers have severe illnesses related to their work at ground zero. 

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The City of New York has opened two new clinics to service people who lived in the vicinity of ground zero or worked at the site and have medical problems arising from exposures at the site, according to the NY Times.  The clinics are part of the World Trade Center Environmental Health Center, which has treated 1,600 patients so far.  They expect to treat 20,000 people over the next five years.

Doctors treating ground zero related illnesses in workers from the 9-11 site testified to Congress regarding the outlook for the workers, according to a story in the Washington Post.  One doctor testified that “respiratory illness, psychological distress, and financial devastation have become a new way of life for many” of the workers.  An OSHA employee testified that workers arriving at the site in the first 48 hours after the attack received an “incredible assault” on their systems, from all of the toxins in the air. 

A study presented at the hearing shows 70% of the workers had new or worsened respiratory symptoms after exposure to debris at the site.  The study found mental health conditions, including PTSD and depression, in 36% of the workers studied, lower respiratory problems in 40% of the workers studied, and upper respiratory conditions in 59% of the workers studied.

It is unknown how long these types of problems will last in the affected workers and whether new problems, such as cancers related to the exposures, will emerge.  Congress has not yet set up a program for long term health care and health screening for these workers.  It would be the right thing to do.

New study by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene finds increased risk of asthma in Ground Zero workers (story in New York Times).  Ground Zero workers have a 12 times greater chance of developing asthma than the general popluation.  The risk of developing asthma is greater in those who were at the site initially, when the smoke and dust clouds were thick and few respirators were available, as well as in those who stayed at the site longer, suggesting the risk is dose related.     

One of the authors of the study concluded that the study corroborates the other studies regarding Ground Zero workers, that have found the workers are at an increased risk for lung disease because of their exposures at the site.  The author suggests that every worker should be enrolled in a medical monitoring program or under a physician’s care.

The study also found respirators provided a moderate amount of protection for the workers.  But, the study found that even among workers who reported wearing masks, the incidence of asthma was increased.  The study found that paper masks and utuility masks did not prevent the inhalation of toxic dust in the workers who wore such masks, which explained the increased risk in these workers.   

Story from Fire Fighting News.Com regarding workers comp issue for Ground Zero Workers.  $350 million in insurance policies may not be available for Ground Zero workers injured at the World Trade Center site, because the World Trade Center Captive Insurance Company, Inc., run by the Bloomberg adminstration did not timely notify the insurance companies of the pending claims.  This, combined with the way Captive is handling the claims they are reviewing (see my previous post), adds further insult.  These heroes do not deserve to be treated this way. 

Article in the NY Times says that 6 years after the tragedy, ground zero workers still don’t have adequate health care available to take care of the diseases they have contracted or will contract from their exposures after 9-11.  Ground zero workers have contracted various respiratory and digestive ailments related to their exposure to various substances at ground zero.  In addition, the government does not even have a good estimate as to what it will take to provide the care the workers need.  The GAO issued a report raising concerns that a NIOSH estimate of costs issued last year, has major faults.  The estimate for the cost of the program is expected to rise by several $100 million over the next couple of years.  The report also found that ground zero workers from outside of the New York area do not have access to adequate health care to help with ground zero related illnesses.   

Ground Zero workers are suffering from a panoply of illnesses, ranging from lung disease, cancer and mental illness – caused by their exposures and experiences during the aftermath of the 9-11 disaster.  An insurance fund was set up to pay for these types of illness and injuries, but to date has only paid one claim, according to a story in the Washington Post.  $45,000 was paid to a worker who fell off a ladder. 

The fund has spent $74 million fighting the claims of workers injured at the sight.  This is a real tragedy.  The people who responded to the scene of one of the most sickening disasters in our country’s history are now being treated like they have done something wrong.  They are losing their homes and unable to pay for the medical attention they need.  We are spending millions of dollars fighting them, rather than helping them.  Sick, sick, sick.

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