Analysis: Thousands may join Sept. 11 list

By SHAUN WATERMAN, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor  |  Sept. 13, 2007 at 9:20 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- The list of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will swell by hundreds or even thousands in the coming years, say experts, as more die from diseases resulting from their exposure to the huge plume of toxic dust thrown up by the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center.

The New York City medical examiner's office, which maintains the official list of victims, is looking at two cases to determine whether they should be added -- and will look into any case they are asked to -- spokeswoman Ellen Borakove told United Press International.

"If the family asks us to, we will look at any case," she said.

The office has already added one name to the list -- that of Felicia Dunn-Jones, a 42-year-old attorney for the U.S. Department of Education who died of the rare lung disease sarcoidosis in February 2002. Her name was added last May, and Tuesday it was read out with the other 2,749 at the Ground Zero anniversary ceremony for the first time.

Borakove told UPI that there were two other cases currently being reviewed. If the review concludes their deaths resulted from exposure to the toxic dust, "they will be added to the list" of victims' names, she said.

One of the cases they are reviewing is that of police officer Cesar Borja, who died of pulmonary fibrosis, another rare lung disease, in January. The medical examiner conducted an autopsy in that case and is looking at the evidence, Borakove said, but she did not know when a decision was expected.

"I'm afraid a lot more people are going to die," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who has become an advocate for first responders, lower Manhattan residents and others who believe they have been sickened by exposure to the dust from the World Trade Center.

"We are already seeing much higher rates of all kinds of lung diseases" among people exposed, he said, citing a study published last year by the Mount Sinai WTC Medical Monitoring Program.

Of nearly 10,000 Ground Zero responders tested between July 2002 and April 2004, 69 percent reported new or worsened respiratory symptoms after being involved in the cleanup, the study found. And in 59 percent of those cases, the symptoms were persistent.

Nadler says that up to 30,000 people were caught in the plume on the day itself, but adds that the real tragedy is that tens of thousands more who either worked on the cleanup or lived, worked or went to school in lower Manhattan may have been exposed after the attacks.

"The total number (of those exposed) could be as high as 300,000," he said. "The latency period for some of these lung cancers is up to 15 years. … We're going to see a lot more in the future."

Nadler, along with a bipartisan group of other New York lawmakers, is sponsoring a bill that would provide free medical monitoring for first responders and others exposed to the dust -- and free treatment for those who get sick as a result.

The problem, as he readily acknowledges, is that for those who do get sick it will be difficult to know whether their illnesses directly resulted from their exposure.

"You can say statistically you are sure a lot more (got sick or died) than would have without being exposed. … But it's very difficult, almost impossible, to say with certainty that this specific person got that particular cancer because of their exposure."

Autopsies that reveal particles of glass or silicosis in the lungs are one way to say for sure after someone's death, he said.

Because of the difficulty of making such determinations, the bill would set up an expert panel to draw up a list of "presumed WTC-related health conditions." Anyone exposed who became sick with one of those diseases would be entitled to free care for it under the proposed law.

The bill would also re-open the federal fund set up to compensate those killed or injured in the attacks, so that those who got sick or died after the attacks themselves could apply.

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