The Chief
September 22, 2006

Senate GOPers Block $2B Aid For 9/11 Staff

PBA Blasts City Over 'Slow Response' To Health Crisis

By GINGER ADAMS OTIS

A measure that would have secured $1.9 billion in Federal aid for sick 9/11 workers was torpedoed by Senate Republicans Sept. 14.

Hillary Clinton     
HILLARY CLINTON: Hits Republican roadblock.  

The measure, introduced by Sen. Hillary Clinton, was tacked onto a bill that sought funding for port security.

Too Much for N.Y.

That bill was approved, but Senator Clinton's amendment was stripped away by Republican lawmakers who questioned why the bulk of the money would have gone to New York-based workers and volunteers.

Senator Clinton released a statement Sept. 15 expressing "deep disappointment" in the decision. She said she would urge the Senate to consider alternate legislation that would help sick 9/11 workers and volunteers.

Mayor Bloomberg had come out in support of the amendment, saying at a news conference Sept. 14 that he "absolutely endorsed the proposal."

Senator Clinton's measure would have given individuals made ill by 9/11-related work a yearly stipend of $5,800 for five years to help defray medical costs and other bills.

City Council Member Joseph Addabbo Jr., chairman of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor that held a Sept. 14 hearing exploring the needs of the city's uniformed first-responders, said he felt the Senate majority's decision to block the amendment was unfair.

      Dr. Kerry Kelly
 
The Chief-Leader/Michel Friang
  Dr. KERRY KELLY: 'Seeing unusual cancers.'

'Can't Justify It'

"I have a problem with that decision, and I heard one of the Senators from Maine saying that it's because the money would only go to New York responders, and I just don't think that's a fair reason," said Mr. Addabbo.

"We acknowledge that there were others who came and helped us after 9/11 and we are grateful, but that's got to be, what - maybe 1 percent of the people who were working there? We had thousands," he stressed.

Mr. Addabbo's comments were made after an exhaustive hearing attended by leaders from all the city's uniformed unions, representatives from the Mount Sinai WTC Monitoring and Screening programs, and city officials.

Much of the discussion focused on statements made by Dr. Kerry Kelly, the Fire Department's Chief Medical Officer, and Lorna Thorpe, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Pat Lynch     
The Chief-Leader/Michel Friang
 
'NO VESTED INTERESTS': Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch asked the City Council Committee on Civil Service and Labor to question Mayor Bloomberg regarding the role of city lawyers in delaying decisions about medical care to sick first-responders. He also called for an independent overseer with no political ties to monitor the city's response to workers' health needs.  

The two women were quizzed at length about policies and procedures implemented to protect public and worker health since 9/11, but also about what policies were in place on 9/11.

Unanswered Questions

"Did the city ever go down to the World Trade Center site and take its own air-quality samples or do an assessment of its own about the possible toxicity of the site?" asked City Councilman James F. Gennaro.

Ms. Thorpe, who didn't work for the DHMH in 2001, wasn't able to answer the question. She said the agency had handed out respirator masks at the site.

But without testing the air quality, Mr. Gennaro noted, the DHMH wouldn't have known which type of respirator mask would best protect the workers.

"Some have cartridges that filter for particles in the air, others that are better for air with gaseous elements," he said.

Agency Doubletalk?

He later commented that he thought it was disingenuous of the DHMH to talk about its efforts to get workers masks while they were on The Pile.

Dr. Kelly said that respiratory problems quickly surfaced for FDNY members at the site. Just four weeks after the disaster, the FDNY initiated an internal WTC screening and treatment program in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. It's screened 13,973 active and retired FDNY members to date.

Nearly 3,000 FDNY and Emergency Medical Service personnel have sought respiratory treatment since 9/11, and 600 developed permanent, disabling lung conditions that forced them into early retirement.

'Need Close Monitoring'

While the FDNY has carefully watched and treated respiratory diseases, it hasn't been as proactive with cancers.

"The FDNY's preliminary analysis has shown no clear increase in cancers since 9/11. Pre- and post-9/11, the Fire Department continues to see occasional unusual cancers that require careful monitoring," said Dr. Kelly. "Monitoring for future illnesses that may develop and treatment for existing conditions is imperative and should be funded through Federal assistance."

Mr. Addabbo suggested that the city might need a "Federal umbrella to oversee everyone. We need to know who is doing what and where the money is going to have a streamlined, cohesive system so workers can come in and get results."

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association Patrick J. Lynch took it a step further and said there needs to be an "independent overseer - one without a vested interest other than the responder's health."

'Failure of City'

During five minutes of heated testimony, Mr. Lynch blasted the city for its slow response to the brewing crisis.

"It was a failure of government that it took until Aug. 31, almost a full five years, for the Department of Health to release [9/11] treatment protocols to the medical community," he said. "We, as first-responders, have a right to know why."

The PBA submitted a list of members' ages and medical diagnoses along with time spent at Ground Zero that it has been collecting as part of its own health registry. According to its information, several Police Officers are suffering from sarcoidosis. Many have respiratory and sinus problems, acid reflux and other common WTC complaints. About half a dozen have various cancers, ranging from liver and gall bladder diseases to brain tumors.

"Why were city lawyers reviewing the [medical guideline] drafts? How much time and delay did the lawyers' involvement cause? Why were lawyers involved in what is primarily and fundamentally a health issue?" Mr. Lynch asked the Council Members.

'Why Involve Lawyers?'

He continued: "How are city lawyers involved in other aspects affecting the medical treatment, diagnosis and provision of benefits to first responders? Also, why were there no guidelines issued for serious illnesses like emerging cancers and sarcoidosis? These questions should be considered by this body and answered by the Mayor."

Mr. Addabbo said additional hearings would be held on the issues raised by union members, who were unanimous in their statements that Federal funding was needed to avoid draining their own welfare funds for sick workers.