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Ground Zero Police Officers Exhibit Health Problems

Mar 15, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Yet another study is pointing to health problems among Ground Zero first responders.  This latest study, funded by the Fraternal Order of Police of New York state, found that police officers who worked at the World Trade Center site in the aftermath of the attacks had unusually high occurrences of abnormal left and right ventricular functioning. Such abnormal functioning hinders blood flow and can lead to heart disease later in life.

This would not be the first time a study has pointed to health problems in people who assisted rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero. 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 have confirmed that Ground Zero first responders continue to suffer from ill health as a result of their exposure to toxic dust at the site, including lung diseases and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is also known that the chemicals they were exposed to included several carcinogens.

This newest study involved 1,200 police officers whose heart function was tested over an 18 month period. Of those tested, 53 percent had abnormal left ventricular functioning and 59 percent had problems with their right ventricle. That’s unusual because the mean age of the officers in the study was only 49 – young for such problems to develop. In the general population, only about 7 percent of people in their 50s will exhibit such problems.

While this study was the first to offer evidence that work at Ground Zero may lead to cardiovascular problems, the scientists who conducted it said it is not conclusive. The nature of law enforcement work – high stress, odd shifts, and long periods spent sitting in a patrol car – could also contribute to the problems seen in the study.

Since 2003, thousands of firefighters, police officers, construction workers and emergency responders have filed lawsuits against 90 defendants over these illnesses. They alleged the defendants, including New York City, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and construction companies, failed to adequately supervise and protect them with safety equipment.

Just last week, a settlement was announced in these lawsuits. If approved, the $657.5 million settlement will be divided among some 10,000 Ground Zero workers who say exposure to toxic dust at the destroyed World Trade Center injured their health. For the settlement to take affect, at least 95 percent of the plaintiffs must agree to its terms. According to The New York Times, if 100 percent of the plaintiffs agree to the terms, the total settlement would be $657.5 million. But if only the required 95 percent agreed, the total would shrink to $575 million.



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