WTC Medical Monitoring Program advocated as model for future disasters
By Inside OSHA
A leader of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program is advocating a nationwide version of the plan that could be used for any declared disaster. David Prezant made the pitch at a recent International Association of Fire Fighter's (IAFF) legislative conference.
The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and other national disasters that call on first responders to spend extended periods of time in hazardous areas has increased concern in the first responder community about the risks of long-term exposure to dangerous toxins. Other than the WTC program, Prezant notes, there is no national medical monitoring program in place, which he says limits the ability of medical personnel looking after first responders to perform timely medical checks before, during and after exposure. If a medical monitoring program is not in place beforehand, Prezant argued, any monitoring efforts will not be comprehensive.
After the 9/11 attacks, first responders and other workers at ground zero in New York City began reporting respiratory illness, pneumonia and other health problems, according to the IAFF Web site. Congress then formed a program to monitor workers at the site to observe their health. The program facilitated the detection of health hazards at the site, which in turn helped doctors treat worker illness stemming from those hazards.
A federally supported plan modeled after the WTC program, Prezant said, would provide a comprehensive way of ensuring the health and safety of those responding to future disasters.
For example, first responders, before arriving at a disaster site, would be able to receive health checks to ensure they can safely perform their duties, Prezant said. They would be able to get answers for their questions about the risks they may face. And after they leave the disaster site, more medical checks could take place to ensure the workers receive the best care possible for any afflictions they may suffer as a result of their work.
A medical monitoring program could also provide peace of mind for first responders, Prezant said, in that they would know the government was looking out for their best interests.
The federal government has an obligation to take care of first responders responding to federal disasters, Prezant argued.
The IAFF supports S. 1741 and H.R. 380, bills that "would authorize a program to assess and monitor the health and safety of individuals, including fire fighters and emergency medical personnel, exposed to harmful substances following a federally declared disaster," the group's Web site states.
S. 1741 was introduced by Sens. George Voinovich (R-OH) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in September of last year. It was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security.