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NY workers struggle after 9/11

For Carmen Calderon, the recent news of the death of a Sept. 11 emergency worker is a sad reminder of the challenges ahead for thousands of other workers in New York City.


"This is something I can't comprehend as a person of faith."

—Joann Hale

For Carmen Calderon, the recent news of the death of a Sept. 11 emergency worker is a sad reminder of the challenges ahead for thousands of other workers in New York City.

The 39-year-old emergency medical technician died due to illnesses his friends and family believed were caused by his work at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Calderon is finding more and more workers around the city that are also suffering ailments caused by the dust from Ground Zero.

"Most of the health problems are respiratory, that's the big issue," said Calderon, immigrant project coordinator for the New York Committee for Occupation Safety and Health (NYCOSH). "There are sinus problems, throat problems, breathing problems - and a lot of them have developed asthma."

Calderon has been meeting with unions and immigrant worker communities for several months now to spread the word about resources available to them. She also spends time finding organizations still providing assistance to Sept. 11 cases, such as New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS), the United Church of Christ, the American Red Cross, and many others.

Many of the immigrants she meets are not aware that medical screenings are being done through the Mt. Sinai World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program - or that other assistance is available to them via the NYDIS Sept. 11 Unmet Needs Roundtable.

At both meetings Calderon has had with unions this spring and summer, many showed up but only a few had taken advantage of services offered to them. "It was amazing to see that out of 100 there, some had done the initial (medical) screening but did not follow up and the rest had not been screened," explained Calderon. "At our June meeting, only two had been screened, but most of them said they were having health problems.

"We're encouraging people to take advantage of (the services) while they're still available."

And that's a current hot button issue for those still involved in the Sept. 11 recovery. A group of Ground Zero recovery workers made a trip down to Washington, D.C., last week to lobby Congress about the $125 million that is slated to be taken away from the New York Workers' Compensation Fund. The money had been earmarked for Sept. 11 claims, and workers blame the state for dragging its feet in distributing the money.

The funds are still being debated as part of the 2006 federal budget - a move which angers and surprises many Sept. 11 responders. "This is something I can't comprehend as a person of faith," said Joann Hale, a member of the United Church of Christ - one of the denominations that has actively funded and participated in the Sept. 11 recovery.

"It's amazing that these were the people who were risking their lives trying to save others and keep the area safe - just trying to help their fellow person. I don't quite understand why they have to be penalized for that."

Hale, who also serves as a Church World Service disaster response and recovery liaison, met with representatives from Mt. Sinai and NYCOSH last week to discuss further ways the organizations can work together. She said without funding like the $125 million, the pressure just increases on the faith community and the non-profit community to come up with the funds.

Another task for Calderon is establishing a workers' council aimed at making the workers' compensation claim process easier. She said at this point, many workers have become so ill that they are unable to work - leaving them without any health insurance.

That problem does not relate only to workers in the city, either, she added, noting that rescue workers from across the country to help at Ground Zero after Sept. 11. "I have people from other states who have called with problems," Calderon said. "I'm sure there are people throughout the country like this."

The problem also does not just apply to workers who helped clean up at Ground Zero. An ongoing battle rages between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and New York City residents and current employees around the Ground Zero site over whether toxic dust lingers in offices, apartments, and maintenance areas where many service employees spend their time.

A similar contentious issue is the demolition of other Manhattan buildings damaged on Sept. 11. On Tuesday, the EPA released its comments on the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s revised demolition plan for the heavily damaged skyscraper at 130 Liberty Street. Residents and lower Manhattan workers worry that if the demolitions are not properly coordinated and monitored by the EPA, the World Trade Center toxins within the buildings will once again be spread throughout their neighborhoods.

Calderon and Hale agree that the health effects from the initial cleanup and the lingering dust will continue to surface as time passes. One hope for Calderon is that this message of a continuing Sept. 11 recovery gets out to the entire country - especially to those in the federal government.

"People have to realize that the Sept. 11 disaster wasn't just that day," said Calderon. "It was a tragic disaster on Sept. 11, but the effects of it are going to be felt for so much longer. Recovery and cleanup workers cannot be forgotten, it would be a real shame if we turned our backs on them.

"Bringing the city and country back together is not just about rebuilding structures, it's about the people that live here and making sure they’re okay."

Related Topics:

Motorcycle riders honor Flight 93

NJ interfaith group closes doors

Observing 9/11 by doing good deeds

More links on September 11 2001


Related Links:

New York Committee for Occupation Safety and Health

New York Disaster Interfaith Services

United Church of Christ Disaster Response

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