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Context of 'Late October 2001: Ground Zero Recovery Efforts Scaled Down'

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New York City Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen says that almost 4,000 firefighters who have participated in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center have complained of respiratory problems, but adds that long term effects of working at Ground Zero are uncertain. “We won’t know for a long period of time if there is any long term effect. Some might lead to asthma, some might lead to lung conditions,” One firefighter has been treated for allergic alveolitis, a rare lung inflammation. Von Essen’s comments follow a Newsweek interview with Dr. David Prezant, the chief pulmonary physician for the city’s fire department. Prezant explained to the magazine that thousands of firefighters require medical care for a range of illnesses, including coughs, sinus infections, lung trauma and severe asthma. Prezant, a professor at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, has referred to these ailments collectively as the “World Trade Center cough.” (CNN 10/29/2001; CNN 10/29/2001; Dreher 10/29/2001; Ramirez 10/30/2001; BBC 10/31/2001; Gonzalez 11/20/2001 pdf file)

New York City officials order the Police and Fire Departments to reduce the number of officers and firefighters involved in recovery efforts at any one time to 24 for each department, citing new concerns about air quality at the site. The announcement is met with criticism from members of the police and firefighters unions. “We were promised by the mayor and the fire commissioner that we wouldn’t give this up until we got everybody out,” Michael Carter, the vice president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, tells the New York Times. “To scale back to 24 people, that’s to say that this has become nothing more than a construction site.” Thomas Manley, the health and safety officer for the firefighters union, tells the Times that he does not believe the decision was really based on new concerns regarding air quality. He suggests the mayor wants to minimize the presence of the site in an effort to return business to the area. (Worth 11/1/2001)

Thomas Manley, who monitors health issues for the firefighters union, tells reporters that 500 of the union’s members are on sick leave because of a variety of respiratory problems. Three hundred of them may never be able to fight fires again as a result of their medical conditions. “It’s getting worse and worse,” he says. “They’re having trouble breathing, shortness of breath, coughing with pain in their stomach.” The union claims the illnesses could have been prevented if proper respirators had been provided to firefighters working at the World Trade Center site. (NY1 News 12/21/2001; Associated Press 12/21/2001)


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