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Feds Censor Sept. 11 Health Disaster

Increase in cancer, blood disorders blamed on 9-11 toxicity


By Pat Shannan

More than 360 workers who dealt with the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster are known to have died, New York health officials said in May. Of the more than 600 diagnosed with cancer (other than blood cancer), 80 are included in the death count. Other deaths were traced to blood cancers and heart and circulatory diseases. Five ex-workers committed suicide, said Kitty Gelberg, who is tracking the deaths for the state’s World Trade Center Responder Fatality Investigation Program.

Officials have determined the cause of death of 154 of the responders and volunteers who toiled at Ground Zero, the blocks nearby and at the Fresh Kills landfill, where debris from the site was taken. “It’s the tip of the iceberg,” said David Worby, who is representing 10,000 workers who say they got sick after working on rescue and recovery efforts.

“These statistics bear out how toxic that site was, Worby said. Most of the deadly tumors were in the lungs and digestive system, according to the tally from the state’s program. Ms. Gelberg said she had not yet determined whether the number of cancer deaths was more or less than those typically occurring in men in their 20s to 50s who work as cops, firefighters or laborers—the majority of 9-11 workers.

“We are not saying all of these deaths are World Trade Center-related,” she said, not yet ready to make that determination without the statistics.

She added that relatives of people who died of cancer may be likely to link their loved one’s death to their 9-11 work and add them to the database, despite other possible factors. Ms. Gelberg said she is compiling the deaths from public sources, individuals and agencies and believes there is an overall undercount of workers who have died. The statistics cover Sept. 12, 2001, through May 1, 2008.

The city Health Department said it was actively examining whether deaths have been elevated as a result of 9-11. Last year, the head of Mount Sinai Medical Center’s monitoring and treatment program, Dr. Robin Herbert, predicted a “third wave” of 9-11-related deaths from cancer.

“We know people were exposed to carcinogens. There was benzene, dioxin, asbestos,” said her colleague Dr. Philip Landrigan. “There’s reason to be concerned, so we’re engaged in watchful waiting. So far, there’s no excess.”

Cathy Murray, whose husband, Fire Lt. John Murray, died of colon cancer April 30, “absolutely” connects his disease to his work at Ground Zero. He was diagnosed in June and was 52 when he died, she said. An FDNY spokesman couldn’t immediately say where or when Murray performed 9-11-related duty, but a department letter confirms that he spent at least 40 hours at World Trade Center-designated work sites.

“He was perfectly healthy,” said Cathy Murray, 53, of Staten Island. “He never smoked a day in his life, and neither did I. It happened so quick and [was] so aggressive. He was responding [to therapy] at first, but then he wasn’t,” she added. “And now he’s gone.”

Celia Correa, 58, has lung disease and a host of other medical problems that she believes are connected to her exposure to the World Trade Center dust after 9-11. She and other activists recently held a forum about 9-11 health on a Sunday afternoon. Residents, workers and students spoke about their continuing health problems following 9-11. Doctors talked about the 9-11-related illnesses they have seen and told people where they can go for treatment.

“More and more of us are developing more and more illnesses and conditions, but they’re not being linked to 9-11,” Ms. Correa said.

“These medical problems take a toll on your body slowly, and finally it erupts.” One goal of the event was to spread the word about the WTC Environmental Health Center, which offers free treatment to anyone with 9-11-related health problems. Staff from the center registered attendees for intake exams at Bellevue Hospital, Gouverneur Healthcare Services on the Lower East Side and Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.

Laine Romero-Alston, director of research and policy for the Urban Justice Center, one of the organizers, saw the event as an opportunity to spread the word about the free healthcare to those in the city and elsewhere who are unaware of the program

“There’s a serious health crisis related to 9-11,” Ms. Romero-Alston said. “Doctors don’t know what’s going on. What was initially all respiratory, is not all respiratory now.”

She said doctors are now seeing increasing numbers of cancer cases and blood diseases in those exposed to 9-11 contaminants, along with more complaints about skin, digestive and gynecological problems.

Ms. Correa said she has experienced a progression of symptoms. She worked as an administrative assistant in the WTC ruins area from October 2001 until July 2004. She helped clean an office and worked at a desk directly beneath an air vent. The dust from 9-11 was literally part of the air she breathed, she said. She developed lung disease, chronic asthma and bronchitis, respiratory problems that some doctors have linked to 9-11. But she also noticed a number of other health problems, which she didn’t initially connect to her exposure. She developed acid reflux, vertigo, muscle aches, hemorrhaging and a rash that doctors couldn’t diagnose.

No longer able to work, Ms. Correa was left without health insurance and had to declare bankruptcy. The activists also called on the federal government to provide funding for 9-11-related healthcare and research.

“They’re not doing anything about it,” Ms. Correa said. “We don’t understand why the government doesn’t want to acknowledge us.”

She wants a guarantee of lifelong workers compensation and subsidized healthcare. “We don’t know, ultimately, what the full health fallout is, or what it will be in five, 10 years,” Ms. Romero-Alston added. “There needs to be long-term federal response for all those affected.”

Pat Shannan is the assistant editor of American Free Press. He is also
the author of several videos and books including One in a Million: An IRS Travesty. See more from Pat at

(Issue # 21, May 26, 2008)

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