Public officials will meet at the site of the World Trade Center tragedy on May 30 in a ceremony that will mark the end of the rescue, recovery and clean-up period.

That is all well and good but what about the residents who live in the community and have been left with the task of cleaning asbestos, silica and other dangerous dusts from their apartments and homes?

No ceremony can undo the damage caused by the fumes from the burnt plastics and the PCBs, created by gases such as dioxin. Nor can it overcome the hazards from the mercury left from the destruction of hundreds of thousands of fluorescent bulbs. And what about the water contaminated by burning electrical transformers?

Nor should we forget the construction workers who have been working 12-hour shifts since Sept.11. They, too, face potential physical and mental health problems. Sure, they were paid good wages for this work, but one wonders how many will live to spend it.

And what about the students and staffs of the public schools and universities in the southern end of Manhattan Island? They, too, were victims of these hazards.

According to The New York Times, a recent federal study indicated that the students, faculty and staff at Stuyvesant High School, the neighborhood’s flagship public school, face serious respiratory problems as well as the possibility of lingering mental health problems.

What is clearly needed is a registry of everyone who worked and/or lived in the WTC vicinity following the terrorist attack. The first step in that direction has already taken place with the announcement by New York Senator Hillary Clinton of a special federal grant to the Mt. Sinai Occupational Health Clinic to help them conduct a study to determine and document the human toll caused by these hazards.

The situation is complicated by the fact that most of the WTC-induced illnesses and diseases will not have surfaced for 10 to 20 years.

For example, an 8-year-old dog, who worked at the WTC, died of respiratory damage due to exposure to toxins. But tragic as it is, that experience can be useful in protecting the people living in the Battery Park neighborhood or who worked in the clean up.

By documenting the status of their health we can better take care of them 15 to 25 years from now. This should be a top priority.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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