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New York mayor seeks aid for 9/11 responders

Bloomberg tells a Senate panel that the city needs $150 million a year to treat workers sickened at the World Trade Center site.

March 22, 2007|Louise Radnofsky | Newsday

WASHINGTON — New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Wednesday urged a Senate panel to reopen the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund for sick ground zero responders and said the city needed $150 million each year to continue to treat them.

Thousands of the 50,000 rescue and recovery workers are being monitored and treated for serious respiratory illnesses at special clinics in New York City, Long Island and New Jersey.

Bloomberg said the money would be needed to maintain the care along with programs for firefighters and Lower Manhattan residents.

He also told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that treatment costs could rise to $393 million a year as more people became sick.

"We need your help," wrote responder Ken George of North Babylon, N.Y., in testimony submitted for the record. "Working at the World Trade Center site has turned my life upside down. I worry about my future and that of my family."

Bloomberg asked lawmakers to support a bill sponsored by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) that would provide grants for Sept. 11-related healthcare.

"Congress cannot turn its back on those who responded with courage and suffered through this terrible catastrophe," Bloomberg said. "9/11 wasn't just a strike against New York or Washington. It was an attack against all of America."

The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund closed in December 2003.

Bloomberg said of the responders, "The mere fact that their injuries and illnesses have been slower to emerge should not disqualify them from getting the help they need."

He said that more than 8,000 lawsuits had been filed by ground zero workers alleging damages to their health, and that their claims could total billions of dollars.

A compensation fund could stave off expensive litigation, he said.

George listened at the hearing with his wife and daughter.

In 2001, he was a highway repairer for the city Department of Transportation. He said he was in perfect health, lifting weights regularly.

George said he was ordered to report to ground zero the night of Sept. 11 and worked on search and rescue, often digging through rubble on his hands and knees, until late November.

He said that he had a bad feeling about the air at the site but that his main concern was to try to find victims.

George didn't complain that the filter mask he was given was good for only one hour and that no replacement filters were available.

"No, I didn't raise any objections, it was my job to go down there," he said. "There's a lot of people I knew down there."

George, 43, said he now takes 19 pills a day to treat lung and chest illnesses and post-traumatic stress disorder.

He has been hospitalized for seizures and a heart attack doctors told him was brought on by a combination of the fumes at the site and the prescription steroids he takes.

He quit his job in July because he could not continue working.

"It's not that I expect anything, it's just, treat us fair," he said.

Dr. Jeanne Mager Stellman, a Columbia University professor who studies occupational health, told the panel that at ground zero, "we had what can only be characterized as a toxic chemical soup ... maybe a stew."

Stellman said the rubble contained corrosive cement dust, asbestos and other carcinogens, each considered a serious hazard.

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