9/11 responders urged to register for health funds

N.Y. has set a deadline of Aug. 14 for workers to file for compensation.

Posted: April 07, 2007

For three days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Matt Quigley, driven by patriotism and an intense desire to help, stood in a bucket line on the hot remains of the World Trade Center, frantically removing debris, hoping to find someone alive.

The Gloucester County construction laborer had no respirator - despite the presence of dust and fumes that turned the noon sky black and blanketed everything in a pale-gray, asbestos-laden powder.

Quigley, now 43, would do it again, even though, he said this week, "I feel like my chest is always heavy. I've got a hard time breathing. My lungs are always filled. My doctor tells me I have the lungs of a 70-year-old man."

As public-health workers, labor activists, and lawyers in New York learn more about the health problems of workers who responded Sept. 11, 2001, they are frantically trying to reach beyond Manhattan's borders to people such as Quigley, who lives in Clayton.

More than 20,000 people, by some estimates, rushed toward Lower Manhattan after the attack to help, many coming from nearby states.

The New York State Workers' Compensation Board, which has funds to help cover health-care costs, has set a deadline of Aug. 14 for Sept. 11 workers to register.

That marks their place so they can file a claim for benefits - either now if they are already sick, or later if they develop an illness. Eligible workers include volunteers and out-of-state residents.

Separately, public-health specialists from the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program want to examine as many Sept. 11 workers as possible for health problems, including respiratory ailments such as asthma and severe sinusitis, as well as acid reflux and lingering psychological issues. Besides providing care, the program's aim is to gain understanding of medical trends and treatment needs over time.

On Thursday, PhilaPOSH, the labor-funded Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health, brought in experts on World Trade Center health problems for sparsely attended informational meetings at the Iron Workers Local 401 union hall in Northeast Philadelphia.

PhilaPOSH's sister organization, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), has been coordinating the major outreach effort in New York.

Among the speakers was former Northeast High School graduate Stephen Levin, medical director of the Mount Sinai Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine in New York, which has examined 16,000 Sept. 11 responders. Half of them have been diagnosed with illnesses.

Levin used photographs of the World Trade Center to illustrate the dust and fumes that workers breathed - images Quigley recalls vividly.

"We came across hands, legs, people buried under steel, and there was no color, no blood. If you found a hand, there would be no blood because the dust absorbed it all," said Quigley, who started as a Sept. 11 volunteer and later became a paid worker.

Levin said doctors often treated workers' respiratory problems as infections when, as it turned out, many were the result of chemical burns in their lungs.

When the towers collapsed, "it reduced everything to a finer size than is usually found in a demolition site," he said. The powder and glass fibers are what is now causing problems.

Some who helped after Sept. 11 were trained rescue workers. Construction companies such as J.S. Cornell & Son in Philadelphia dispatched ironworkers and riggers because they were experienced in moving heavy beams in precarious situations.

"I got a lot more shortness of breath" after working there, said Craig Collins, 47, of Gilbertsville, an ironworker sent by Cornell two days after the attack. He stayed to volunteer. "I just attributed it to getting older."

Ironworker James Weisser, 47, of Perkiomenville, also went up for Cornell, first as a worker, then as a volunteer. "Last year, I had a heart attack, and I have a little trouble breathing," he said.

Both men filled out claim forms at Thursday's event.

So did a Philadelphia firefighter who responded to Manhattan on Sept. 11. Now he has breathing problems and still feels traumatized. But he's afraid to admit to being sick, because he's worried about losing his job.


9/11 Health-Related Claims

What's the deadline to register? It is Aug. 14, under the New York State Workers' Compensation Law.

Who should register? Anyone who did rescue, recovery and cleanup work in Lower Manhattan, at the Staten Island landfill, on the landfill barges, and at the morgue from Sept. 11, 2001, to Sept. 12, 2002.

Can volunteers or undocumented workers file? Yes.

Do you have to be a resident of New York State? No.

What's the procedure? Call 1-866-WTC-2556 for a claim form for workers' compensation benefits.

What if you are healthy? Registering protects you if you develop a 9/11-related illness later.

For more information:

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health at 212-227-6440 or www.nycosh.org.

The World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program at 1-888-702-0630 or www.wtcexams.org. The closest facility is at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Piscataway at 732-445-0123. A Philadelphia-area clinic is expected to open this year.

Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health at 215-386-7000 or www.philaposh.org.

SOURCE: New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health


Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|