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New York Post

9/11 Health Chief Vows Death Probe

By CARL CAMPANILE

April 29, 2006 — New 9/11 federal health czar John Howard came to New York yesterday and vowed to investigate deaths that might be linked to exposure to Ground Zero.

He also called "very worrisome" the claim that thousands of people have fallen ill from toxic air from the crumbled World Trade Center.

Asked if he expected many more such claims, he said, "Yes, I assume."

"We want to track the cases of people who have died in a possible association [with Ground Zero]. We want to look at those cases," said Howard, following a meeting in Manhattan with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Reps. Vito Fossella, Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler.

Howard said it was troubling that a New Jersey medical examiner found that the death of NYPD Detective James Zadroga was related to breathing air while working in the recovery effort at Ground Zero.

"Any death at the age of 34 is an untimely death," Howard said during a press conference at the Turtle Bay YMCA.

"You have to look very carefully at that. His exposure was very significant. He spent more than 500 hours at the site.

"It is important to look at that case and other warning cases."

Lawyers have claimed in a class-action suit that 40 deaths of workers at Ground Zero can be attributed to toxic air there.

Howard vowed to tackle "unmet health needs." He said he would establish a comprehensive program to track 9/11 responders who've come down with serious respiratory problems, stomach problems, other physical ailments as well as mental distress.

Howard, a doctor with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was in recent weeks named to the new post of federal 9/11 health director, He said any correlation between deaths and illnesses and 9/11 would have to be scientifically proven - a painstaking process that could take years.

He said he would work with Mount Sinai Medical Center and city health officials, who have done research on the health of emergency responders and other residents.

Those comments drew the ire of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

"We don't have the luxury of waiting," said PBA general counsel Michael Murray, adding that "piles of data" already exist linking Ground Zero to police deaths and illnesses.

"What was announced today was too little and way too late," he said.

Howard also said he would consider recommending providing medical screening to residents and other volunteers who spent time near Ground Zero.

Current screening and treatment mostly covers such emergency responders as firefighters, police, EMTs and paramedics.

Such an expansion would require additional federal funding, he said.

The members of Congress who have criticized the federal government's response to 9/11 health woes were confident that Howard would turn things around.

They also said they would push for additional funding for screening and treatment.

"It has been a long time coming," Clinton said.