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WTC registry tracks health of thousands after 9/11

From Jonathan Wald


Wednesday, March 3, 2004 Posted: 10:22 AM EST (1522 GMT)

Workers spent weeks in the dust at Ground Zero in the cleanup effort.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- More than 25,000 people have signed up for a registry measuring the long-term health effects of the 9/11 attacks in New York, the city's health department said.

Over the next 20 years, this registry will track the physical and mental health of people who were in or near the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and in the months following the terrorist attacks.

The database is the second largest effort of its kind in U.S. history, behind a Three Mile Island registry that began after the 1979 nuclear accident in Pennsylvania, according to the health department.

"We are pleased with the response to the World Trade Center Health Registry," said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"The data gathered through the registry allow us to better understand how the events of September 11, 2001, affected the health -- both mental and physical -- of those directly exposed to the dust and debris cloud from the collapse of the twin towers," Frieden said. "Still, we would like to see thousands more sign up for this critical initiative."

The enrollment period for the registry ends in August.

"The registry is a tool for giving us health data that could guide how we respond to this kind of disaster for generations to come," said Dr. Henry Falk, director of the National Center for Environmental Health with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Enrollees undergo 30-minute telephone interviews detailing where they were on September 11, how long they were in areas with smoke and fumes and whether they have had any health problems.

Periodically, they are contacted to gauge any subsequent health changes, and the information is compared with that of the general population to identify any health problems possibly linked to September 11.

Quarterly reports on the registry's Web site, www.wtcregistry.org, have been posted since fall 2003.

The registry was launched September 5 after a report from the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general, which said the EPA did not have enough data in the days after the terrorist attacks to declare that the air around the World Trade Center site was safe.

The report said, "The White House Council on Environmental Quality influenced ... the information the EPA released to the public when it convinced the EPA to add reassuring phrases and delete cautionary ones."

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House council, which coordinates federal environmental efforts, said he made the recommendations based on science, not politics or economics. The EPA's acting administrator at the time, Marianne Horinko, said the report didn't characterize the agency's work properly.

Health officials said creation of the World Trade Center registry is not connected to the EPA controversy.

Data from a federally funded study conducted in 2003 found that three out of every four workers who took part in rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site had experienced some health problems.

Residents of Lower Manhattan also expressed concern about dust and other industrial material from the site.

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