Volume 17 • Issue 11 / August 06 - 12, 2004

City looks to make biggest health registry bigger

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the city’s health commissioner, at a press conference in Wagner Park, said he hopes more Lower Manhattan residents sign up for the World Trade Center Health Registry.

The World Trade Center Health Registry has become the largest registry in U.S. history, but the more than 50,000 enrollees still fall short of the city’s expectations for the program.

In the three weeks remaining before the Aug. 31 cutoff, officials hope to enroll many more people, particularly Lower Manhattan residents. The effort aims to track the long-term physical and mental health consequences of the World Trade Center disaster.

“The more people we get, the better the registry will be” in terms of accuracy and scope, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, at an Aug. 3 news conference. Several hundred thousand people meet the eligibility requirements, Frieden said.

The second-largest registry in U.S. history was one that tracked 38,000 people exposed to radiation from the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

Of the 50,000 participants in the W.T.C. registry, about 10,000 are residents who lived south of Canal St. on Sept. 11, 2001. Residents are of interest because they experienced the most prolonged exposure to the fine dust particles and other contaminants released in the World Trade Center collapse and subsequent fires, while rescue workers generally experienced a more intense exposure of shorter duration, Frieden said.

Of the enrolled residents, the 10038 zip code is the most represented, with 2,917 participants. This area includes the Southbridge Towers housing complex, the Seaport, and parts of the Financial District and Chinatown. Tribeca, which is in zip code 10013, is next with 2,177 enrollees. Battery Park City, or zip code 10280, tied for third place with zip code 10002, or Knickerbocker Village on the Lower East Side and parts of Chinatown.

City Councilmember Alan Gerson, whose district includes much of Lower Manhattan, urged more residents to enroll. He said that he would use his cell phone to register immediately after the news conference.

“On 9/11 and the days that followed, we in Lower Manhattan came together as a community, and indeed, as an extended family” to help one another, Gerson said. “This health registry is an important extension of those efforts.”

If they wish, registry participants can receive free monthly health information, Frieden said. This includes the department’s general monthly health bulletin and a quarterly progress report on the registry.

City officials hope to track participants for 20 years to monitor trends in illness and recovery, but the extent of the follow-through will depend on funding, Frieden said. The registry was formed with $20.5 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It will take a bare minimum of $1.5 to $2.5 million to operate the program, said G. David Williamson of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

In general, those eligible to participate in the registry include residents living south of Canal St. (even if they were not home on 9/11), workers and passersby (defined as those who were in a building, on the street or on the subway south of Chambers St. on Sept. 11, 2001), students and staff at schools south of Canal St., and rescue personnel and volunteers, including those who worked at Fresh Kills on Staten Island.

People can enroll in the registry by calling 1-866-NYC-WTCR (1-866-692-9827) and answering a 30-minute telephone survey. All information provided is kept strictly confidential, including participants’ names.


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