9/11 health rally

By Jefferson Siegel

Protestors demanded better healthcare services for 9/11 rescue workers and residents at a demonstration in front of the World Trade Center site on Wednesday. The rally came just hours after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new plan to address mounting 9/11 related health concerns.

The demonstrators called on Governor George Pataki and the federal government to provide healthcare for everyone who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, from police and fire fighters to transit workers and people who worked to clean the surrounding buildings. The Beyond Ground Zero Network, an advocacy group formed by low-income people, organized the event.

“I’m having reflux, asthma and sinus problems,” retired transit worker Charles Cook said in a low voice. Cook worked for 117 days helping to clean up the site. “I just walked in because I knew I could help here.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Bloomberg announced a series of initiatives to address 9/11-related health issues. The program will establish a W.T.C. Environmental Health Center at Bellevue Hospital for residents and workers, expand the Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene’s World Trade Center Unit, and create and internal mayoral review panel. Bloomberg also called on the state and federal governments to provide long-term funding for monitoring and treatment programs.

The new program at Bellevue Hospital will expand health services for residents, uninsured individuals, undocumented immigrants and others. The city will provide $16 million to the health center, which will be able to treat 6,000 additional patients, over the next five years

“We will never abandon those who gave heroically during those difficult days,” Bloomberg said in a prepared statement.

Health advocates described Bloomberg’s initiative as a step in the right direction, but with health concerns mounting, the $16 million investment will likely be only a fraction of the investment needed.

“These are good first steps,” said U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler in a prepared statement. “However, much more needs to be done. 

Quite frankly, while spending $16 million dollars over five years is certainly a worthy step, adequately providing medical treatment for those affected by 9/11 will be a much more costly and potentially huge long-term burden that the city or the state should not have to shoulder alone.”

Earlier this week, Mount Sinai Medical Center released findings from a screening program that found that 60 percent of rescue workers suffer from long term health effects from 9/11. No comprehensive study has been done to measure the effects of the disaster on Downtown residents.

“What [the Mt. Sinai study] doesn’t show is, what about the residents of Lower Manhattan, what about the residents of Chinatown, what about the residents of Brooklyn?” Congressmember Nydia Velazquez said at Wednesday’s rally.

The city’s W.T.C. Health Registry found that many Downtown residents still suffered from health problems in 2003, when the survey was conducted. Of the 12,624 residents living below Canal St. who participated in the self-reporting survey, 36 percent reported a persistent cough, 46 percent reported sinus irritation, 33 percent reported wheezing and 38 percent reported shortness of breath. All of the rates were higher than the city average.

Esther Riegelson, a Washington St. resident, had a pre-existing asthma condition that she said has worsened after 9/11. “I’m very worried about the toxins that are still permeating our atmosphere. We’re certainly not getting proper treatment,” she said at the rally.

Riegelson has heard similar concerns from neighbors. “There are a few people in my building who are realizing now, ‘oh, this could be because our building wasn’t cleaned properly and maybe because we inhaled all that dust on 9/11,’” she said.