By DEVLIN BARRETT
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK- The father of a police detective who died after breathing in dust from ground zero wreckage told lawmakers Friday that the government has spent too much time studying the health problems that killed his son.
"We must make the first priority the treatment of the heroes to improve their heath and save their lives. The studies should be secondary," Joseph Zadroga, father of New York Police Department Detective James Zadroga, told a House subcommittee hearing near the World Trade Center.
Zadroga's voice broke with emotion as he recounted the day he found his son dead on his bedroom floor. James Zadroga died in January of respiratory disease attributed to ground zero exposure.
Public pressure has been growing for the government to deal with health problems blamed on the toxic dust at the site following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
This week, a hospital study concluded nearly 70 percent of ground zero workers suffered lung problems, and many of them would likely be sick for the rest of their lives.
Dr. Robin Herbert, co-director of the Mount Sinai Medical Center program monitoring afflicted workers, told lawmakers that new patients are still arriving at her hospital to be treated for 9/11-related illnesses and thousands will likely need lifelong care.
Meanwhile, former Environmental Protection Agency chief Christie Whitman said it was the city's responsibility to force ground zero workers to wear protective gear, not the EPA's because the agency did not have authority over the World Trade Center site.
Many working in the wreckage in lower Manhattan did not wear masks, and Whitman conceded in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" that there may have been confusion over the message.
"It's hard to know _ when people hear what they want to hear and there's so much going on, that maybe they didn't make the distinction," she said in the interview to air Sunday.
Whitman said she provided an accurate assessment of the air quality following the attacks, distinguishing between air in lower Manhattan and that near the wreckage.
"The readings (in lower Manhattan) were showing us that there was nothing that gave us any concern about long-term health implications," she said. "That was different from on the pile itself, at ground zero. There, we always said consistently, 'You've got to wear protective gear.'"
Joe Lhota, the former deputy mayor for operations under the Giuliani administration, issued a statement Thursday saying, "The EPA publicly reported that the general air quality was safe and the city repeatedly instructed workers on the pile to use their respirators."
In Washington, the Bush administration said Thursday it will continue to help sick Sept. 11 workers, but would not say what their long-term health needs might cost.
Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, who met with members of New York's congressional delegation and other lawmakers and advocates, said that by the end of October, Sept. 11 health programs would receive $75 million.
"If the $75 million proves to be inadequate, the federal government will be part of a coordinated effort to solve whatever the balance of the problem is," Leavitt told reporters after the meeting. "We have a responsibility. We will meet it."
Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., said $75 million is a good start but won't come close to providing all the treatment needed for those suffering with lung problems, gastrointestinal disease and mental health woes.
A Mount Sinai study released Tuesday is conclusive proof of a link between recovery work at the World Trade Center ruins and long-term respiratory problems, doctors said.
The study examined 12,000 ground zero workers between July 2002 and April 2004 and got permission to use 9,442 workers in its research. They include construction workers, police and firefighters and other volunteers who worked at the site, in the city morgue or at a landfill that handled more than 1 million tons of trade center debris.
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