NEW YORK – Firefighters who have worked at the World Trade Center site since the Sept. 11 attacks were examined Saturday for respiratory and other health problems.
Health and safety concerns were among the reasons cited by city officials this past week when they ordered a sharp cutback in the number of firefighters and cops working at the site.
Hundreds of angry firefighters rallied Friday to protest the decision to reduce the staffing at the site. A dozen were arrested; all charges against two were dismissed and the most serious charges against the others also were dropped.
Some rescue workers have complained about not being able to shake a persistent, annoying cough that has been dubbed "World Trade Center cough."
Health and environmental officials say toxic chemicals escaping from the rubble exceed federal safety standards, although there are no indications of any serious or long-term health risks.
The New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, a nonprofit advocacy group, urged all rescue workers who worked prolonged periods at the trade center site to see a doctor.
"Several police officers have already been diagnosed with occupational asthma and upper respiratory problems," said Joel Kupferman, director of the organization. "Rescue workers should definitely go see a doctor."
Medical screenings for some of the nearly 11,000 firefighters who have been at the site began at department headquarters last week. Police officers who had been at ground zero also are eligible for free medical screenings, said Joe Mancini, a spokesman for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.
The fire department also has distributed 7,000 respirators to protect firefighters from airborne contaminants. The police department has not distributed respirators, but has given officers high-quality filter masks.
Kathleen Callahan, deputy regional director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said workers at the site are adequately protected if they wear respirators.
"Some people may think this (disaster) is over, but it's not over to us. We're not getting on with our lives. We still have brothers who need to be brought home," said firefighter Will Hickey, one of those at Friday's rally.