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Report: WTC illnesses affect thousands

NEW YORK – World Trade Center illnesses are more than a New York problem – they are affecting thousands of people across the country, according to a report obtained by the New York Daily News.

More than 70,000 people have enrolled in the city’s World Trade Center Health Registry. Slightly more than 10,000 are from outside the New York metropolitan area – including people from every state.

Of those, about 70 percent are volunteers and rescue and recovery workers who responded at the WTC site on Sept. 11 or soon afterward. Some 20 percent are tourists or out-of-town business people who were in lower Manhattan at the time, and the remainder are former residents who moved away later, said Deputy Health Commissioner Lorna Thorpe.

“We’re seeing the basic World Trade Center responses: the respiratory, the GERD (gastro-esophogeal reflux disease), the posttraumatic,” said Katherine Kirkland, executive director of the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, which has screened and treated about 900 responders at clinics outside the tristate area.

They’re people such as firefighter Harold Schapelhouman, whose California urban search and rescue crew spent five days on and around ground zero starting Sept. 25, according to a report he submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. During a recent interview, he said he was on his third round of antibiotics for asthmatic bronchitis.

“Before 9/11, I didn’t have the problems I have now, so I’m a little suspicious,” said Schapelhouman, 46, of Menlo Park, Calif., a fire chief who said he’s also battled sinus infections and walking pneumonia.

Another member of his team, Frank Fraone, developed a chronic cough and shortness of breath, a doctor’s letter shows. Even now, smoke and dust set off his coughing and sometimes force him to use an inhaler and other medication.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency could not be reached to confirm the men’s presence at ground zero, but several news outlets reported on the group’s efforts at the time, and the team was honored by Congress.

At a clinic at the University of Illinois Hospital, some of the 90 responders seen there are still having trouble sleeping, said nurse Irene Stasula.

“It’s what they saw out there,” she said.

Last week, Congress approved $50 million to treat people whose health was affected by Sept. 11, including those outside the metro area.

But the funding is included in a spending bill that also sets a deadline to withdraw troops from Iraq, which President Bush has vowed to veto.

“The 9/11 health crisis is an emergency on a national scale, and it requires a federal response,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who with Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., asked the city for the state-by-state breakdown of its registry.