Monday, May 15, 2006

World Trade Center Tragedies Continue

Angel Franco/The New York Times
Some of the people working in the cleanup and recovery effort after Sept. 11 wore masks, but the most effective ones were effective for no more than 20 minutes.

Articles covering the illness and growing number of deaths resulting from lung disease related to working in the ruins of the World Trade Center grow more numerous.

The New York Times has awakened to the story:
The Fire Department tracked a startling increase in cases of a particular lung scarring disease, known as sarcoidosis, among firefighters, which rose to five times the expected rate in the two years after Sept. 11. Though that rate has declined, doctors worry that the disease may be lurking in other firefighters. Experts who regularly see workers who were at ground zero in the 48 hours after the towers' collapse expect monitoring to show many more cases of lung- scarring disorders among that group.

New evidence also suggests that workers who arrived later or worked on the periphery may also be susceptible to debilitating lung ailments.

"We have thousands of people who were down there with unprotected exposures," said Dr. Stephen M. Levin, a director of the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program. "Many will develop asthma and a few will develop this terrible lung scarring that leads to disability or death."
The Times also notes differences in the way these cases are being handled by the New York Police and Fire Departments:
In some cases, making such links causes so much discord that government agencies have come to conflicting conclusions, extending the misery of those involved.

For example, firefighters who have developed sarcoidosis since Sept. 11 are thought to have contracted the disease because of their work at ground zero. Yet the Police Pension Board has ruled that working at ground zero did not cause the death of a police officer who developed the disease.

"This rift between the Police and Fire Departments is ridiculous," said Michelle Haskett-Godbee, whose husband, Police Officer James J. Godbee Jr., died in December 2004. She said that Officer Godbee, who had worked at or near ground zero for more than 850 hours, suddenly developed a hacking cough and grew progressively weaker, although he had to keep working.

After his lung collapsed in March 2004, Officer Godbee, a former marine and 19-year police veteran, grew frail and listless. In the weeks before he died, he could barely get out of an easy chair at his Stuyvesant Town apartment, Mrs. Godbee said.

The autopsy done by the New York medical examiner's office found that Officer Godbee's lungs were pitted with the blisters and scars caused by sarcoidosis.

Despite the Fire Department's well-researched information on sarcoidosis, the Police Pension Board last June denied Mrs. Godbee's application for a line-of-duty death benefit, which would have provided her widow's benefits — equal to half her husband's annual salary — every year for the rest of her life. The board said that sarcoidosis is "not known to be related to employment in the police force."
The New York Post reports on the extent of the damage the New York Firefighters are suffering
FDNY rescuers who sucked in toxic air while working at Ground Zero lost the equivalent of 12 years of lung function after the World Trade Center attacks, a bombshell health study shows.

"World Trade Center exposure produced a substantial reduction in pulmonary function in New York City Fire Department rescue workers during the first year following 9/11/01," according to the analysis of 12,079 fire and EMT workers conducted by Montefiore Medical Center-Einstein College and the FDNY.


"There was a drop in lung function equivalent to 12 years of aging," said co-author Dr. Gisela Banauch, a professor at Montefiore/Einstein College in The Bronx. "It's statistically a very significant loss."

"This study - together with other studies that have been published - makes a causal connection between WTC exposure and short- to intermediate-term respiratory disease very likely," Banauch told The Post of the findings, published in the American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine.

The New York Post also looks at the toll the disease has taken on one firefighter:
John Miscanic was the fitness buff at FDNY Engine Co. 276 in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. He jogged, lifted weights and boxed.

But Miscanic, 40 - who played shortstop for his James Madison HS baseball team - can't do any of these things now.

He's been forced into disability retirement after inhaling hazardous dust and fumes while dutifully taking part in rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero.

"I was on the engine going over the Brooklyn Bridge as the second tower was coming down," said Miscanic, who still gets emotional over the terrible memories.

Miscanic suffers from asthma and airway hyper-reactivity.

"I was the epitome of health. I ran four times a week. I worked out in the gym,"


His respiratory disability is permanent and related to his 9/11-WTC exposures," an FDNY medical report of his condition concluded.

Miscanic now walks around with an inhaler and takes three drugs to help him breathe: Advair, Pulmicort and Singulair.

He spits up brown mucus in the shower every morning and wheezes at night.

Air fresheners are barred from his home because he'll choke. Even perfume burns his insides.

He drinks lots of water to clear his throat.
And ASFSCME District Council 37 Public Employee Press reports on Deborah Reeve, the third AFSCME Local 2507 paramedic to die of an illness tied to toxic exposures at the 9/1l disaster site.
During the eight-month recovery period, Reeve was assigned at various times to the morgue at Ground Zero, where she helped medical examiners identify body parts from the rubble.

By 2003, she began having respiratory problems — difficulty breathing and a persistent cough. Doctors later discovered cancer in her lungs and diagnosed it as mesothelioma, which develops after exposure to asbestos. After waging a two-year battle with the malignancy, Paramedic Reeve passed away on March 15; she was 41 years old.

“She was an amazing Paramedic, a wonderful wife and mother and a good friend,” said Pat Bahnken, president of Local 2507.

The collapsing towers killed four DC 37 members. Paramedic Carlos Lillo, Paramedic Lieutenant Ricardo Quinn of Local 3621 and Fire Dept. Chaplain Mychal Judge of Local 299 all died doing their city jobs. Chet Louie, a Betting Clerk in Local 2021, had a second job in the WTC.

But the death toll didn’t end on 9/11. The price of doing good was an early death for Emergency Medical Technicians Felix Hernandez and Tim Keller and Paramedic Reeve.
Reeve also had trouble getting benefits:
Despite her heroics at Ground Zero, Paramedic Reeve, who worked at Station 20 at Jacobi Hospital, had to spend a year fighting the city for disability benefits. After her Workers’ Compensation claim was rejected, the New York City Employees’ Retirement System made Reeve the first city worker to get a line-of-duty-injury disability pension under the new 9/11 disability law, but she did not live long enough to receive a check.