Residents Rally to Highlight Ground Zero Health Problems

Angry residents gathered near ground zero to denounce the government's handling of Sept. 11-related health problems, saying they have been ignored for years.

Their complaints were likely to be echoed during a congressional committee hearing Friday morning in New York where lawmakers intend to grill federal officials about the absence of medical treatment for thousands who were exposed to the World Trade Center ruins.

"Collateral damage, that's what I feel like," tenant group leader Diane Lapson said at a meeting held at a church across the street from the World Trade Center site.

Tom Goodkind, a 52-year-old accountant, complained that while help programs existed for those who worked on the debris pile, little was done for people who lived nearby.

"I don't think that any of these groups have looked at the children of our neighborhoods," he said.

Dr. John Howard, the federal coordinator of Sept. 11 health programs, told the crowd he would make sure officials in Washington, D.C., heard their complaints.

"I am doing the best I can to make sure they know how you feel," he said.

In Washington, the Bush administration said Thursday it will continue to help sick Sept. 11 workers, but would not say what their long-term health needs might cost.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, who met with members of New York's congressional delegation and other lawmakers and advocates, said that by the end of October, Sept. 11 health programs would receive $75 million.

"If the $75 million proves to be inadequate, the federal government will be part of a coordinated effort to solve whatever the balance of the problem is," Leavitt told reporters after the meeting. "We have a responsibility. We will meet it."

Leavitt urged federal, state and city agencies to better coordinate their ground zero health programs.

Public pressure for greater government action on Sept. 11 health problems began building this year after an autopsy concluded that a New York police detective's fatal respiratory disease was caused by exposure to toxic dust and fumes at ground zero.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., andVito Fossella, R-N.Y., said $75 million is a good start but won't come close to providing all the treatment needed for those suffering from lung problems, gastrointestinal disease and mental health woes.

Dr. Robin Herbert, co-director of a Mount Sinai Medical Center program studying ground zero health issues, said her group's share of that $75 million could be spent within a year.

The $75 million in treatment money was originally part of the Bush administration's $21 billion aid package to New York after Sept. 11 but became embroiled in a yearlong legislative battle when congressional leaders decided to take it back.

"We've been down this road before," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. "We've heard a lot of promises, and they haven't always been fulfilled, but we are very hopeful that now we will see action."

On Tuesday, Mount Sinai released a study concluding that nearly 70 percent of ground zero workers suffered lung problems and many of those would likely be sick for the rest of their lives.

Mount Sinai examined 12,000 ground zero workers between July 2002 and April 2004 and got permission to use 9,442 workers in its research. They include construction workers, police and firefighters and other volunteers who worked at the site, in the city morgue or at a landfill that handled more than 1 million tons of trade center debris.