Union: WTC Work Sickens Firefighters

The firefighters union says many of its members working at Ground Zero are coming down with debilitating illnesses; entertainment companies are providing gifts for victims of Sept. 11; Dear Abby and the Navy are teaming up on a Web site; and a man is accused of lying to jail two Middle Eastern men.

Hundreds of Firefighters Said to Be Ill

N E W Y O R K, Dec. 21 — Hundreds of firefighters who worked at the World Trade Center site in have developed respiratory problems, and some may have to retire, a fire union official said.

Thomas Manley, sergeant-at-arms for the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said Thursday that many who participated in rescue and recovery efforts are easily winded, suffer from a chronic cough, or have symptoms of asthma.

Manley estimated that as many as 300 who are on medical leave with lung problems could be unable to continue to fight fires if their health does not improve.

Fire Department spokesman Francis Gribbon said it is too early to predict the health implications for firefighters who have had respiratory symptoms.

"We won't know for some time what the short- and long-term effects will be," Gribbon said. "But we are being very aggressive in not only treating people but in tracking their progress,"

The Fire Department began health screenings for firefighters in late October, conducting lung function exams, chest X-rays, hearing tests and blood work.

More than 1,000 firefighters have filed notices to protect their right to sue the city over inadequate protection from dangerous materials at the trade center site.

— The Associated Press

Sept. 11 Victims Get Gift of Entertainment

N E W Y O R K, Dec. 21 — More than 100 entertainment organizations, including sports teams, museums and theaters, have banded together to offer free admission to the families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"If we can advance the healing process for the families of the victims — even for a few hours — by making these facilities freely available to them, then we've done something that is good for all of us," said Andrew Tisch, chairman of the executive committee of Loews Corp.

The program, announced Thursday, runs from January 2002 through April 2003 and is being offered to spouses, children, parents and siblings of those who died aboard the four hijacked planes and in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The organizers estimate that 150,000 tickets worth $6 million will be distributed to 30,000 family members.

Participants include the Metropolitan Opera, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the Bronx Zoo, the New York Mets, the New York Yankees, the National Football League, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association.

In a letter explaining the program to the families, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg said: "While we recognize that this gift will in no way erase the pain of losing a family member, we hope from time to time it will make your day better and perhaps help the healing process."

— The Associated Press

'Dear Abby,' Navy Team Up for Anthrax-Free Mail

W A S H I N G T O N, Dec. 21 — "Dear Abby" has some good advice for avoiding anthrax in the mail — turn to the Internet.

Amid lingering anthrax worries, the columnist and the military are using a Web site to make sure holiday messages get to U.S. troops.

Jeanne Phillips says she was shocked when the Pentagon blocked the annual "Dear Abby" campaign to send letters and packages to military members abroad.

Phillips is the woman behind the pen name Abigail Van Buren, or "Dear Abby" to readers of her daily advice column. She's the daughter of the woman who created the column.

The Web site, OperationDearAbby.net, was created late last month and is run by the Navy. A Navy spokesman says the site already has been visited more than 8 million times.

— The Associated Press

Man Charged With Lying About Middle Easterners

H A R T F O R D, Conn., Dec. 21 — A Torrington man who told federal authorities he overheard two Middle Eastern men discuss plans to mail anthrax letters was arraigned today on charges he made false statements.

Robert Janco, 35, pleaded innocent to a two-count federal indictment. Janco reportedly told FBI agents he was in a local bar when he heard the men discuss mailing letters with the help of a New York resident named "Kathy."

Janco allegedly made the report to police five days after Vietnamese immigrant Kathy Nguyen mysteriously died of inhalation anthrax in New York.

Based on Janco's alleged report, police arrested and detained the men.

Janco later failed a voluntary lie detector test.

If convicted, Janco could face more 10 years in prison and a half-million dollars in fines.

— The Associated Press