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New York Times

Editorial

Ground Zero’s Lingering Victims

September 15, 2008—Seven years after terrorist attacks destroyed the World Trade Center towers, it is clear that many workers who responded to the crisis and many people in the community nearby are suffering lingering effects from breathing in toxic dust, smoke and fumes. What is less clear is how well the nation will treat those whose health problems are still emerging or yet to be seen.

Immediately after the attacks, federal and state agencies and private organizations rushed to provide sufficient resources to meet the medical and financial needs of the families who lost loved ones and of emergency personnel and workers who toiled on the burning pile. Scientific studies have shown that even two to four years after the event, emergency personnel and those who lived or worked in Lower Manhattan suffered high levels of respiratory problems, asthma and post- traumatic stress disorder. Tens of thousands of the responders have been given monitoring examinations, and thousands were treated for any ailments that were discovered.

Now the problem is how best to sustain the effort and extend care to all responders who rushed to the scene from distant states — and to injured people from the surrounding community. A medical working group estimates that current health care resources can handle the more than 10,000 exposed people who have sought treatment at the city’s designated centers but might not be enough as more people become aware of the program or of a late-blooming illness.

A bipartisan bill sponsored by New York members of the House would ensure that every American at risk of illness from exposure to ground zero toxins has a right to be medically monitored and treated if sick from the exposure. It also seeks to defuse some 10,000 or more lawsuits filed against the city and its contractors by providing a no-fault compensation alternative.

But the bill is languishing in committees, in part because its cost could rise into the billions. House leaders ought to press for a credible cost estimate and then assess how much more can be done.