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Aid to World Trade Center Rescue Workers Axed by CDC

Dec 17, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

World Trade Center rescue workers living outside New York state might not be able to get the healthcare they need, thanks to a decision by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to halt plans for a national 9/11 health program.   The results of the CDC decision could be devastating to the thousands of World Trade Center first responders who left New York state for warmer regions of the country because of health concerns.

In the days after 9/11, thousands of rescue workers descended on Ground Zero to help with recovery efforts. Sifting through dust and rubble, sometimes with their bare hands, many lacked the clothing and equipment that could have kept them safe from harm. Several studies earlier this year confirmed that Ground Zero first responders were suffering from ill health as a result of their exposure to toxic dust at the site. Released in May, the initial findings of a three-year study conducted by the Mt. Sinai Medical Center found that of the 9,000 WTC first responders examined, 70-percent had suffered some type of lung ailment after the attacks, and that 60-percent still faced respiratory problems. Another report released by the FDNY in early May reported that cases of the rare lung disease sarcoidosis had risen dramatically among firefighters and EMS workers who were first responders at Ground Zero. And the New York City Department of Health also found that one in eight first responders still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Similar studies by the New York State Department of Health reached similar conclusions.

Last week, CDC officials said the agency was halting the process of gathering proposals to create a World Trade Center Business Process Center.   The Center would reimburse doctors treating people who traveled to assist in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks on the trade center, as well as first responders who then lived in the New York metropolitan area and later moved away. The program also would gather data about 9/11-related illnesses.  According to Newsday, CDC officials said their decision to stop gathering proposals was prompted by confusion among bidders and cost overruns.  Health officials feared the work could cost as much as $165 million, far more than the $52 million Congress had provided.

At least two New York lawmakers have taken issue with the CDC’s decision. "This is no time to say 'no' to first responders who have now retired and moved to warmer climates for their health," Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference on Thursday."This was an unfair, misguided decision." 

Maloney was joined in the news conference by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who criticized the CDC for scrapping the plan rather than reworking it.  According to Newsday, both lawmakers called the CDC’s reason for killing the Center a “smokescreen”, and asserted that it was the Bush Administration’s intention to kill the World Trade Center Business Process Center before it ever got off the ground.

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