Saturday, August 28, 2010

Forgotten heroes

I remember September 11th, 2001, and the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

I've known for some time that those who responded to the attack were suffering health problems, and battling Federal, State and local bureaucracy to get some sort of relief; but I hadn't realized how serious, or how widespread, the problems really were. An article in the Daily Mail has jerked me out of my complacency.

11 September nine years ago, 2,975 people died in the worst-ever terrorist attack on US soil. The body count was shocking, and the trauma suffered by victims’ families hard to contemplate. But the danger to New York citizens was far from over. In addition to those who perished in and around the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and on United Flight 93, there are thousands of ‘shadow’ victims: people who inhaled the toxic dust cloud that enveloped Ground Zero and who are now suffering serious – in some cases fatal – illnesses as a direct result. Indeed, far more people are likely to die from the effects of the dust than in the attack itself.

These victims include office workers, shopkeepers, students and local residents – but the worst-affected are the ‘responders’: emergency service, recovery and volunteer aid workers who were exposed to the site at close quarters. These people went to help – and are paying with their lives. The New York City Department of Health has already recorded 817 deaths of World Trade Center (WTC) responders from illnesses generated by working on the site.

But as well as the official figures, there are currently another 20,000 recorded sick by the WTC Medical Monitoring Treatment and Environmental programmes. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. According to the World Trade Center Health Registry, 410,000 people were heavily exposed to WTC toxins causing restrictive respiratory illnesses and cancers, which changes 11 September from a terrorist attack into a full-blown environmental disaster on the scale of Chernobyl, where the initial toll was overshadowed by deaths and illnesses that were still occurring up to 20 years later.

On 9/11 the dust from the pulverised towers was so thick and far-reaching that you could write your name in it on cars in Brooklyn. It contained chemicals including asbestos, lead, dioxin and deadly PVCs (the WTC buildings were the most heavily computerised in the world), mercury from 500,000 shattered fluorescent fixtures, plus emissions from more than 200,000 gallons of diesel fuel smouldering underneath the site. Robin Herbert, co-director of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program, has expressed his concern about the number and combination of cancer-causing elements and other chemicals released, and observers have noticed a tendency for fast-developing and multiple cancers among emergency workers.

In the urgency of rescuing survivors from the rubble, crucial safety procedures seem to have been overlooked and conflicting instructions given by the authorities. People were operating without the correct protective clothing. Rescue teams were provided with paper masks that became clogged within seconds. Families who lived in the vicinity were told that they could clean up the contaminated dust with wet rags. A week after the attacks, in a bid to restore the collective morale of New York’s population and kick-start Lower Manhattan’s financial district, local workers, students and residents were told it was safe to return to their jobs, schools and homes. It was business as usual. Wall Street was open. New York had moved on.

But the shadow victims haven’t been able to move on – 70 per cent of emergency service workers have been diagnosed with serious respiratory problems as a result of their involvement with Ground Zero. And the real scandal is that post-disaster healthcare (mental and physical) has been so badly neglected that there is barely any provision for them.

. . .

The events of 9/11 were unprecedented, and the ensuing confusion reflects this. There is no existing legislation to support the emergency service workers. The fact that many responders were unpaid volunteers means that they are not covered by their medical insurance policies because they were not technically ‘at work’. Moreover, the link between exposure and illness has been incredibly complicated to prove.

Trying to quantify the effects of a toxic dust cloud and argue that multiple sicknesses have developed as a result of inhalation through the skin and mouth has been new territory for lawyers. Some 62 per cent of claims to date have been rejected, which has resulted in lengthy litigation and appeals.

. . .

The focus of 9/11 has always been on the victims in the towers: those who died on the day. But this secondary tragedy is even bigger in terms of numbers – and just as tragic, if less dramatic in its photo-news impact. The ‘shadow victims’ have had to go to extraordinary lengths to be seen or heard or treated, and their story deserves to be more widely told.

There's more at the link.

Here's a short video clip outlining the medical problems faced by first responders.

I've found at least two Web sites set up to publicize this issue and educate public opinion on what needs to be done:

I urge my readers to click over to both Web sites to read more about the issue for themselves.

Legislation to address the problem was recently rejected in Congress. I'm not going to argue with those who are wary about already-excessive Government spending, because I fully agree with them: but I suggest that in this specific instance, the money would be well spent. I believe we owe it to those who disregarded their own safety, and went into danger on our behalf, to cover the medical and other costs they've incurred as a result.

I'd like to suggest to all my readers that we contact our Congressional representatives and Senators, and ask them to move forward with the so-called 'Zadroga Act' as quickly as possible. I submit it's not just a good idea, but a national moral obligation.



Old NFO said...

Excellent point Peter, as almost always happens, the emergency workers have been minimized/left behind with NO support...

Anonymous said...

Thank-You for posting this