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Daily News

'A horrible thing'
Poll finds widespread anger over treatment of ill 9/11 workers

BY DAVID SALTONSTALL
DAILY NEWS SENIOR CORRESPONDENT

September 5, 2006—Nearly five years after 9/11, 72% of New Yorkers say not enough is being done to help Ground Zero workers battle their emerging health problems - an issue Mayor Bloomberg is expected to address today with renewed vigor.

The sense of anger over the slow-footed government response to workers' health needs is consistent across all ethnic and geographic boundaries in the city, the poll found.

"I think it is a horrible thing," said poll respondent Gail Smith, 58, a retired city art teacher who can remember the toxic stench from the World Trade Center wafting all the way to her home in Whitestone, Queens. "I can only imagine what it was like for those at Ground Zero."

In an Op-Ed article in today's Daily News, the mayor vows in his most explicit language to date to develop a health policy for Ground Zero workers that is "both responsive and responsible."

And while he stopped short of drawing a direct link between 9/11 and specific ailments - saying the effects of that day "are still largely unknown" - the mayor also acknowledged for the first time that some workers "have developed higher rates of both respiratory problems and psychological distress."

"As trends continue to develop, the city will continue to doeverything possible to learn about the problems people face and develop effective strategies to deal with them," the mayor promised. "We owe that to the thousands of selfless people who came to our aid when we needed them most," he added, "and to all those who suffer health problems as a result of the terrorist attacks."

The mayor is due to lay out the specifics of his plan today - six days before the fifth anniversary of the fateful attacks - in a series of proposals based in part on data from the city's World Trade Center Health Registry.

The registry, set up by the city's Health Department in 2003, tracks the health of some 71,000 New Yorkers affected by 9/11 - the largest health monitoring program in the U.S.

"These initiatives ...build upon the knowledge that medical experts have gained since 9/11," wrote Bloomberg. "In short, they will reflect our commitment to a health policy that is both responsive and responsible."

The mayor's moves follow weeks of hard-hitting editorials by The News that focused on the estimated 40,000 workers who performed rescue or cleanup work at Ground Zero - thousands of whom are now suffering from respiratory and other ailments.

It also comes as a new poll by The News found that nearly three-quarters of New Yorkers believe not enough is being done to help those workers.

"What I heard people saying is, 'We should be ashamed,'" said Mickey Blum of Blum & Weprin Associates, the firm that conducted the poll for The News. "People are angry about this one, and it's every group - young, old, black, white."

Blum added that - much like everyone in the city seemed to know someone killed in the World Trade Center attacks - many now say they know someone who was made sick during the cleanup and is not getting proper attention.

"People are taking it personally," said Blum, adding that most of the anger seemed to be directed at the feds, whom many see as less effective at addressing the aftermath of 9/11 than the city.

Bloomberg also vowed in his Op-Ed today to continue pressuring the feds for more assistance, particularly when it comes to reopening the Federal Victims Compensation Fund.

The fund was established to support people injured in the attacks or the families of those who died, but the filing deadline to receive benefits was 2003 - too soon for the many people who are just now battling health problems.

"Our work has been supported by the federal government," wrote Bloomberg. "But now we need that support to continue."

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