8 Years Later, 9/11 Questions Still Linger

Posted on 05. Nov, 2009 by in Health and Medicine, Jeremy Caplan, Urban

The week before last I attended a rally held by Beyond Ground Zero and 9/11 Environmental Action to announce the results of a survey of lower Manhattan residents to gauge the lingering health effects of 9/11.

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An aerial image of the dust cloud produced from the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Though the survey was limited in scope – only about 211 respondents – the real reason for the rally was to highlight the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2009 (HR 847 and SR 1334), a piece of legislation moving through both houses of Congress designed to extend and expand health coverage to workers and residents affected by the World Trade Center’s collapse. The two groups held the press conference to stress the need for more comprehensive coverage.

“We’re asking that the government and Congress pay more attention to the problems and really take them seriously,” said Marina Zuniga, a speaker at the event, who worked at the clean-up site for four months. Zuniga recently underwent surgery for ovarian cancer. She wants to see the bill expanded to cover more medical issues and see more research done to figure out what diseases may have been caused by the disaster. Right now, the Zadroga bill covers treatment for only respiratory and mental illnesses, but does not include illnesses such as headaches, muscle pain, or, most notably, cancer.

Researchers are still determining whether cancer and other illnesses could be caused by the dust cloud that blanketed the city with material from the World Trade Center site. But the deaths of three rescue workers in early October call into question whether the bill should be expanded. Firefighter Richard Mannetta and Police Officers Cory Diaz and Robert Grossman all passed away of cancer in early October. All men were under the age of 45.

WTCHealth

Above, speaker Fung Mae Eng speaks in Chinese through a translator. A long-time Chinatown resident, Fung stated, "Our health has constantly been ignored."

Another speaker was Lillian Bermudez. Her son already receives treatment at Bellevue for asthma. Even though he was in Queens on the morning of September 11th, the windows in their apartment were open during the collapse because workers were painting the building’s interior that day, allowing a layer of dust to settle in their home.  But because the EPA told citizens that the air was safe, she was not concerned.  It wasn’t until late October 2001 that her son began coughing and wheezing.  She assumed he had a cold from the change of seasons.  After his symptoms progressed over the next three days, she took him to the hospital.

“If I had waited one more day, he would have died,” she said, as she dabbed tears from her eyes during the rally.  Bermudez spoke to the crowd to inform them about the availability of treatment for those affected.  One of the study’s findings suggests that residents and workers more often go to their primary care physicians, than to the clinics that specifically address 9/11-related symptoms.  She said she spoke to let parents know that there are options available to help.

Whether receiving care or not, it is clear that New York is still has lingering mental and physical health issues from 9/11.  Eight years later, questions still remain as to the extent.  Beyond Ground Zero and 9/11 Environmental Action hope that with government support, more of those questions can have answers.

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