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Daily News

Feds Cast Doubt

Say Not Enough Proof To Tie Deaths To WTC Poison

BY MICHAEL McAULIFF
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

WASHINGTON - Proving that 9/11 responders are being killed by poisons inhaled at Ground Zero will be extremely tough - if not impossible - under a draft of guidelines being written by the federal government.

The problem, the draft says, is there are not enough scientific studies - or autopsies of dead people - to make strong links.

"Data does not yet exist to quantify relationships between WTC exposures and diseases causing death," says the 23-page draft released yesterday.

The Daily News has exhaustively chronicled the plight of the ailing heroes of 9/11, and a recent study by the Mount Sinai Medical Center found that up to 70% of Ground Zero responders suffered health problems.

A spokesman for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health emphasized the document was released to get feedback, and could change.

But the report's claims that there's not enough evidence to make conclusions about deaths of 9/11 responders alarmed people who are sure their loved ones fell ill because of their work at the World Trade Center site.

"It's a typical bureaucratic way of getting out of helping people and paying medical bills," said Joseph Zadroga, the father of NYPD Detective James Zadroga, whose death was ruled a result of post-9/11 exposure by a New Jersey medical examiner.

The New Jersey ruling was challenged by New York City's top medical official, Dr. Stephen Friedman, who helped draft the guidelines.

"As far as I'm concerned, Dr. Friedman is a puppet of [Mayor] Bloomberg," said Linda Zadroga, James' mother. "When my son's autopsy came back, he had glass in his lungs and pieces of human bone."

The city is facing lawsuits over its 9/11 response, and The News has reported that city lawyers sat in on sessions aimed at drafting the guidelines.

Sources told The News they were concerned the guidelines could become an impossible hurdle to proving a person's death is linked to the Trade Center site.

Political leaders who have been demanding such guidelines were cautiously optimistic.

"I hope that they strike the right balance and appropriately recognize those that may have died," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan).

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) was also concerned the guidelines would not recognize what is obvious to so many.

"There is a direct correlation between exposure to the toxic air around Ground Zero and the illness and even death we are seeing now," she said. "We need to keep the focus on speeding treatment to those whose health has been affected by 9/11."

In a letter to Senate leaders, Clinton insisted the Senate Health Committee write legislation to help treat sick responders. Last week, the Senate refused to vote on a bill she wrote to spend $1.9 billion on 9/11 health care.

Fred Blosser, a spokesman for the occupational safety institute, said the draft shows the feds are trying to get it right, and want to hear back from experts before they do more.

"I would emphasize that this is a first cut, based on our need to move the ball forward," he said.

mmcauliff@nydailynews.com