Officials to Monitor Long-Term Health Effects of WTC Air

Wed September 24, 2003 - Northeast Edition

NEW YORK (AP) From executives to food cart vendors, people who were near the World Trade Center when it collapsed began enrolling Sept. 5, in a registry to help determine the long-term health effects of breathing the soot-filled air.

Health officials hope to collect information from up to 300,000 people believed to have been near the twin towers during and shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack.

Data collection began Sept. 5, and a preliminary report is expected this fall. Plans for the registry were first announced last year.

Health officials said the registry was not launched in response to recent accusations that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave misleading assurances about air quality in the days after the terrorist attack.

But they called the registry their best chance to know the extent that contaminants affected people’s health. Asbestos, glass particles and caustic powder were found in the air after the attack.

Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner, pledged that New Yorkers would get a complete report from the registry, part of a $20-million project funded by the federal government and headed by the city.

“We will tell it like it is,” Frieden said. “We do not know if there will be long-term consequences and if there are, what they will be.”

Participants answer a 30-minute telephone survey on their whereabouts on the day of the attacks, and their subsequent health. No blood tests or medical exams are required. Health officials will follow up periodically for 20 years. People can drop out of the registry at any time.

Also eligible are rescue, recovery and construction workers who were at Ground Zero, at the Staten Island landfill where debris was carted, or on barges carrying debris from the fallen towers.

“I don’t know what was in the air, but it’s important to know the effect,” said Juan Pereira, who was operating a food cart near the trade center on Sept. 11. Although he feels healthy now, he recalled having a cough and a burning sensation in his eyes for weeks afterward.

Similar health registries were compiled after the April 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, and the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, said Henry Falk, director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control.

Falk noted that researchers last year disclosed that people who lived near Three Mile Island showed no significant increase in cancer deaths.

“I think people were gratified to know that,” he said.

To advertise the registry, the health department will place posters in subways and commuter trains titled, “I was there Sept. 11.”