City and federal health officials plan to interview as many as 200,000 people to determine whether exposure to smoke, dust and debris from the World Trade Center collapse can be linked to major health problems.
The $20-million survey funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be the largest of its kind in the United States, officials said Friday.
Organizers want to talk with residents, students and employees of Lower Manhattan, as well as rescue workers and others who were near the trade center on Sept. 11, 2001, and during the cleanup. They also want to talk with workers at the Staten Island landfill where the debris was analyzed.
"We want to find out: Is there a difference in health outcomes based on exposure or age or other factors?" said Sharon Campolucci, deputy director of the division of health studies at the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is designing the study with the city.
Researchers will begin asking participants questions in May or June. They expect the interviews to take a year and will publish results periodically.
People will be asked whether they have had health problems -- including asthma, cancer, rashes or mental health issues, said Dr. Polly Thomas, an official with the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Public agencies have tested thousands of dust samples from Lower Manhattan since the attack. A draft report released by the Environmental Protection Agency last month found that most residents are unlikely to suffer long-term illnesses from inhaling pollution after the collapse.
But the survey would be massive in scope and could track participants for years. Campolucci and Thomas hope researchers can get more funding to re-interview participants every two or three years.
"Some diseases from low-level exposure or acute exposure don't show up for many years," Campolucci said.