NEW YORK – Thousands of sick ground zero workers need nearly $2 billion in long-term treatment for ongoing health woes, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday in the U.S. Senate as she offered legislation creating a long-term medical program.
Clinton, D-N.Y., brought an amendment to a ports security bill seeking to create a five-year, $1.9 billion treatment program for those still suffering the after-effects of the toxic dust, debris and fumes they endured at ground zero after the 2001 terror attacks.
"If we don't take care of these people now and start putting up a system that we can have in place for the next several years, we are going to betray a fundamental responsibility to those who we salute whenever it is convenient, whenever it is political," said Clinton, speaking on the Senate floor two days after the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Enough with that. They don't want our speeches. They don't want our flowery rhetoric. They want our help," said Clinton.
The senator offered the amendment on the heels of a major new study that found almost 70 percent of those who worked at ground zero suffered some type of lung ailment during or after the event.
The findings propelled a growing public outcry for the government to treat the sick workers, and Clinton's measure would vastly multiply federal spending to date for Sept. 11-related health programs.
She estimated sick workers would need about $5,800 each a year in health care.
After Sept. 11, 2001, Congress spent $90 million on monitoring programs, and Bush administration officials recently said they would release an additional $75 million -- the first federal dollars to go specifically to treating problems that include lung disease, gastrointestinal disorders and mental disorders.
The Senate did not immediately vote on Clinton's amendment.
Sen. Susan Collins, chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said she was worried the bill may leave out rescuers who responded to the Pentagon or the United Flight 93 plane crash in Shanskville, Pa., on that fateful day.
"Clearly we should make every effort to respond to and to monitor the health problems of those who were at or near ground zero on that day," Collins said. "I am concerned that the amendment only applies to those first responders in New York City. ... That just doesn't seem fair to me."
Clinton replied that New York's situation may be unique because federal environmental officials made reassuring statements about the general air quality in lower Manhattan after the attacks, and many workers did not have respirators as they toiled on the debris pile.
She also invoked the case of James Zadroga, a 34-year-old NYPD detective who died in January. An autopsy concluded his death was caused by ground zero exposure.
The New York senator warned that unless the government takes action, "We're going to have a lot of autopsy reports like we had for James Zadroga."
In releasing their study of nearly 10,000 ground zero workers, doctors at Mount Sinai Medical Center said many would remain sick the rest of their lives.
Those most at risk were the rescuers in the first three days, when they were exposed to a higher concentration of asbestos, pulverized concrete, mercury and toxins.
Aides to the senator said the program she proposed also would be open to residents and office workers made ill by exposure to the toxic dust.