NEW YORK– Seven years after the terror attacks on the World Trade Center, hundreds who served as first responders are still suffering health problems, and despite a new $9 million federal grant for treatment and monitoring, doctors say more money is needed.
The Long Island World Trade Center Monitoring and Treatment Program at Stony Brook University Medical Center received the funding in a newly announced grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The money will pay for treatment and patient monitoring through next July.
Dr. Benjamin Luft, the program’s director, said yesterday the difference between the medical conditions seen shortly after the attacks and those being treated now has been the transformation from acute illnesses to chronic ones.
Respiratory problems, gastrointestinal conditions and post-traumatic stress disorder are common and often chronic for those who worked at Ground Zero, Luft said.
“We have about 4,500 people in the program,” he said, “many of whom suffer from a wide variety of problems and we continue to do our surveillance for new things that might evolve, whether it’s cancers or autoimmune diseases.”
But if, as Luft and his colleagues predict, World Trade Center disorders could afflict some for life, funding through next July will do little to aid the center’s long-term work.
“The [current] funding is most welcome and it addresses a very important need,” said Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton). “But this is a battle that we are having to wage year in and year out,” he said referring to annual appropriations granted to fund treatment and monitoring programs for people affected by Ground Zero’s caustic cocktail of dust and debris.
Bishop is co-author of a new bill that would permanently fund the center and its counterpart at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.
“What that bill does is take the funding for monitoring and treatment out of the annual appropriations process and make it part of mandatory funding,” he said yesterday. “A way to look at it is Medicare for people who were exposed to toxins as a result of the World Trade Center attacks, so it’s an entitlement.”
Because the attacks were only seven years ago, it is still too early to determine whether cancers will develop as a result of the exposure. Luft said it takes at least 10 to 20 years for tumors to manifest.
While some respiratory disorders were expected, their persistence has provided a fertile area for study, Luft said.
Gastrointestinal disorders, primarily gastroesophageal reflux disease, occurred in tandem with pulmonary damage, Luft said. The inhalation of acidic particles damaged the lining of the esophagus in some responders, Luft said.