September 6, 2006  


‘A first step’

Five years later, city unveils 9/11 health plan

by Joshua Rhett Miller

MANHATTAN — The head of a police union said the city’s latest plan to treat and detect illnesses related to Ground Zero recovery work is five years late and “not much better” than nothing.

“The initiatives announced [yesterday] represent a first step in the right direction,” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said in a statement. “It just shouldn’t have taken five years. It’s better than nothing — but not much better.”

Less than two hours after a study revealed that nearly 70 percent of World Trade Center first responders had new or worsened respiratory problems during or after their exposure to toxic dust, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the city’s three-pronged plan to address the health issues, including a $16 million WTC Environmental Health Center at Bellevue Hospital to open in January.

The city will also expand the Health Department’s WTC Unit and nearly triple its staff from seven to 20. In addition, an internal review panel headed by Deputy Mayor for Administration Edward Skyler and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs will be created to coordinate efforts across city agencies.

“Taken together, [the initiatives] will improve coordination and mobilization of the city’s response to these health problems,” Bloomberg said at City Hall. “They will help create a fuller understanding of the continuing health problems stemming from 9/11 and its aftermath. And they will more effectively meet the current and future needs of those who unselfishly gave to our city in the days of our greatest need.”

Bloomberg also called for additional state and federal funds for the programs.

“Addressing the long-term health effects of that attack is the responsibility that, I believe, all Americans share,” he said. “We will therefore press for the re-opening of the Federal Victims Compensation Fund and extending the cutoff date for filing claims.”

The filing date for that fund expired in 2003, long before many first responders experienced symptoms, Bloomberg said.