September 6, 2003
Officials hope 300,000 will participate in effort that will run for 20 years
NEW YORK – From executives to food vendors, people who were near the World Trade Center when it collapsed began enrolling yesterday in a registry to help determine the long-term health effects of breathing the soot-filled air.
Health officials hope to collect information from as many as 300,000 people believed to have been near the twin towers during and shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Data collection began yesterday, and a preliminary report is expected this fall. Plans for the registry were announced last year.
Health officials said the registry was not launched in response to recent accusations that the Environmental Protection Agency gave misleading assurances about air quality in the days after the attack.
But they called the registry their best chance to determine the extent that contaminants affected people's health. Asbestos, glass particles and caustic powder were found in the air after the attack. Thomas R. Frieden, the city's health commissioner, pledged that New Yorkers would get a complete report from the registry, part of a $20 million project funded by the federal government and led by the city.
"We will tell it like it is," Frieden said. "We do not know if there will be long-term consequences and, if there are, what they will be."
Participants will answer a 30-minute telephone survey on their whereabouts on the day of the attacks, and on their subsequent health. No blood tests or medical exams are required. Health officials will periodically check up with the respondents for 20 years. People can drop out of the registry at any time.
Also eligible are rescue, recovery and construction workers who were at ground zero, at the Staten Island landfill where debris was carted, or on barges carrying debris from the fallen towers.
"I don't know what was in the air, but it's important to know the effect," said Juan Pereira, who was operating a food cart near the trade center on Sept. 11. Although he feels healthy now, he recalled having a cough and a burning sensation in his eyes for weeks afterward.
Similar health registries were compiled after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995, and the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in 1979, said Henry Falk, director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Falk said researchers disclosed last year that among people who lived near Three Mile Island, there was no significant increase in cancer deaths.
"I think people were gratified to know that," he said.
To advertise the registry, the city's Health Department will place posters titled "I was there September 11th" in subways and commuter trains.