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360 post-9/11 workers have died, including 80 of cancer, says state

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By Jordan Lite
Daily News Staff Writer
Thursday, May 8th 2008

More than 360 workers who dealt with the aftermath of the World Trade Center
disaster have died, state health officials said Wednesday.

Officials have determined the cause of death of 154 of the responders and volunteers
who toiled at Ground Zero, the blocks nearby and at the Fresh Kills landfill,
where debris from the site was taken.

Of those, 80 died of cancer.

"It’s the tip of the iceberg," said David Worby, who is representing
10,000 workers – 600 with cancer – who say they got sick after working on rescue
and recovery efforts.

"These statistics bear out how toxic that site was," Worby said.

Most of the deadly tumors were in the lungs and digestive system, according
to the tally from the state’s World Trade Center Responder Fatality Investigation
Program.

Other deaths were traced to blood cancers and heart and circulatory diseases.
Five ex-workers committed suicide, said Kitty Gelberg, who is tracking the deaths
for the program.

Gelberg said she had not yet determined whether the number of cancer deaths
was more or less than those typically occurring in men in their 20s to 50s who
work as cops, firefighters or laborers – the majority of 9/11 workers.

"We are not saying all of these deaths are World Trade Center-related,"
Gelberg said. "Without the statistics, we are not making judgment."

She added that relatives of people who died of cancer may be likely to link
their loved one’s death to their 9/11 work and add them to the database, despite
other possible factors.

But Gelberg said she is compiling the deaths from public sources, individuals
and agencies and believes there is an overall undercount of workers who have
died. The statistics cover Sept. 12, 2001, through yesterday.

The city Health Department said it was "actively examining whether deaths
have been elevated as a result of 9/11."

Last year, the head of Mount Sinai Medical Center’s monitoring and treatment
program, Dr. Robin Herbert, predicted a "third wave" of 9/11-related
deaths from cancer.

"We know people were exposed to carcinogens. There was benzene, dioxin,
asbestos," said her colleague Dr. Philip Landrigan. "There’s reason
to be concerned, so we’re engaged in watchful waiting. So far, there’s no excess."

Cathy Murray, whose husband, Fire Lt. John Murray, died of colon cancer April
30, "absolutely" connects his disease to his work at Ground Zero.
He was diagnosed in June and was 52 when he died, she said. An FDNY spokesman
couldn’t immediately say where or when Murray performed 9/11-related duty, but
a department letter confirms that he spent at least 40 hours at World Trade
Center-designated work sites.

"He was perfectly healthy," said Cathy Murray, 53, of Staten Island.
"He never smoked a day in his life, and neither did I. It happened so quick
and so aggressive.

"He was responding at first, but then he wasn’t," she added. "And
now he’s gone."

jlite@nydailynews.com