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Government to track health impact of WTC attacks

When the trade center's towers collapsed, a cloud of potentially harmful substances covered the area.
When the trade center's towers collapsed, a cloud of potentially harmful substances covered the area.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Federal officials plan to create a $20 million registry to measure the long-term health of up to 200,000 people who might have been exposed to toxic substances after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Officials hope to determine whether exposure to substances such as fibrous glass and asbestos led to short- or long-term health problems by identifying and tracking people for five to 20 years, federal officials said.

The registry will gather data using a toll-free phone bank for people to report health issues. It also will reach out to affected people through a marketing and media campaign in New York City and elsewhere, said Kathy Skipper, a spokeswoman for the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

The registry is scheduled to launch in late 2002 or early 2003, with initial data compiled by the end of 2003. It will release results to registrants first, and then to the public, at an undetermined date, Skipper said. The data collected will be used to help make decisions in the event of another disaster involving the collapse of buildings.

Interviewers will lead callers through a series of questions regarding demographics, their proximity to the trade center collapse, their personal medical history, and current medical problems related to exposure to toxic substances. The registry "probably" will follow up with a registrants' physicians as needed, Skipper said.

Health officials are "optimistic" that most people affected will call the registry, Skipper said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will provide $20 million to the ATSDR to launch the registry and fund it through 2003. ATSDR is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention within the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

About $4 million will go to administrative costs in New York and Atlanta, where ATSDR is based, with the remaining $16 million going to training costs, equipment, facilities and the marketing campaign, Skipper said.

After 2003, Health and Human Services will fund the registry's annual estimated $5 million cost, Skipper said. The registry will work in coordination with the New York City Department of Health, she said.

Based on figures from the city and the Federal Emergency Management Agency , ATSDR estimates 100,000 to 200,000 people have been exposed to potentially harmful substances since the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Congress appropriated $6.1 billion to FEMA for relief following September 11 and is considering another $2.75 billion as a supplement, FEMA spokesman Brad Gair told CNN.

Several aspects of the registry are still under development, said Skipper, including questions in the phone survey and how the registry and its results will be reviewed by members of the medical community. The entire process will "definitely get a peer review," Skipper said.




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