Six years after the tragic events of 11 September 2001, health information on rescue workers at ground zero is still incomplete and inaccurate, according to a recent New York Times article. In the weeks following the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings, there was little action on the part of city, state or federal government agencies to collect health information on these workers, and shamefully, virtually no effort to offer medical treatment. Over the past six years, doctors from the Irving J. Selikoff Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center have examined and made records on some 20,000 health workers. Although the federal government has since contributed over $100 million towards the study and treatment of these workers, the information collected may not be completely accurate. The main reason was a lack of resources in the weeks and months immediately following the buildings’ collapse. For a long time, city, state and federal government agencies failed to offer any assistance in tracking and treating these workers.
Most of the initial data was collected at the Selikoff Center, which at the time was a small, seriously under-funded Manhattan clinic with staff of only six doctors. In the ensuing months, these doctors were overwhelmed by the sudden workload. Meanwhile, federal funding and other resources came in a small trickle. According to the New York Times, the staff “tackled an unprecedented epidemiological challenge with too little money, too few records and too little time to plan properly” (DePalma and Kovaleski, 2007). Ground zero workers began showing up at the clinic with respiratory problems less than three weeks after 11 September 2001. However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) failed to provide any substantial assistance until six months later, and the assistance that did arrive did not include funding for any type of long-term research or tracking. The result is that accuracy of health data on these workers may have been seriously compromised. This could cause serious problems for these workers, many of whom are plaintiffs in the thousands of asbestos lawsuits now being brought against the City of New York.