Health Guidelines Set For 9/11 Workers

New York City health officials issued long-awaited guidelines on Thursday to help doctors detect and treat 9/11-related illnesses, medical advice considered crucial for hundreds of ground zero workers now scattered across the United States.

The agency had previously offered instructions for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and mental illness related to Sept. 11 experiences. But health experts, advocates and politicians had complained that the city had shelved instructions on how to treat the physical ailments of Sept. 11.

Since the 2001 terror attacks, thousands of firefighters, police officers, construction workers and volunteers who toiled at ground zero have been screened for a host of medical ailments, including severe lung disease and gastrointestinal problems.

"Five years after the World Trade Center attacks, many New Yorkers have disaster-associated physical and mental health conditions," said city Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden.

Frieden called the guidelines "an important document to help doctors better recognize and treat these illnesses."

The guidelines could be vital in getting proper treatment for ground zero workers who have relocated or who were from elsewhere and must rely on doctors in other states who are unfamiliar with their symptoms and possible treatments.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the guidelines are overdue.

"Recognizing those with health problems should have been a first step taken years ago. Five years later, victims need accessible treatment, not mere guidelines," Nadler said in a release. "Furthermore, I am concerned that the approach here is still too limiting. I am particularly troubled at the inadequate attention given to the issues of contaminated indoor spaces and chronic exposure populations."

The Associated Press reported last week that more than 600 ground zero workers in 34 states have received medical screening for their exposure to toxic dust.

The guidelines suggest particular questions to ask, tests to give, and ways to treat the 9/11 patients. They also carry a specific warning about tobacco.

"The risk and severity of many WTC-related diseases are heightened by tobacco use. Exposure to secondhand smoke may also exacerbate WTC-related diseases," the guidelines state. "All WTC-exposed people and their family members who use tobacco should be advised to quit, and all who attempt to quit should be provided with medications to help them quit."

The medical guidelines, also known as a protocol, will be mailed to all doctors in New York and distributed elsewhere by the federal government.

"It's about time," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. "Some might ask why it took so long to get them out or why the city did not do this sooner."

In New York, the city-run World Trade Center Health Registry is tracking the long-term health effects of 71,000 people, including those who lived or worked in lower Manhattan at the time of the attacks and the months of cleanup.

Mount Sinai Medical Center is preparing a major study of thousands of ground zero workers, to be released days before the fifth anniversary of the attacks.

A House committee plans to hold a hearing on Sept. 11 health issues next week.