Saturday, May 9, 2009
How The Government Let Down 9/11 Responders
The 9/11 heroes who rushed to the site of the World Trade Center attacks were let down by the government agencies in charge of protecting them, according to one prominent official.
While up to 4,000 workers and volunteers struggled to clear the debris from ground zero, claims James Melius, occupational health physician and chair of the steering committee for the WTC Medical Monitoring Program, those in charge — OSHA, NIOSH, the city of New York, even the federal government — did little to protect these brave men and women from the toxic dust and other hazards at the work site. No real safety training was even offered until several months after the initial event.
Agencies such as The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration failed, Melius says, to provide “the proper protection” to those who worked in and around the site of the 2001 World Trade Center attack — including vital safety equipment and training that could have saved lives in the long run.
“And all the while, We’ll never know the full range of what the WTC responders were exposed to,” said Dr. Robin Herbert, co-director of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, in an interview for The New England Journal of Medicine. But what is clear is that the air at the site was laden with a potent mixture of cancer-causing agents and an “unbelievable range” of other chemicals — all of which may now be slowly poisoning the 9/11 first responders.
“And all the while,” notes Steve Centore, a federal first responder, nuclear physicist, a Navy veteran and author of the new book One of Them: A First Responder’s Story, “the first responders were exposed, with no protection or knowledge, to the airborne chemicals that have cause them so many health problems today.”
Calling for the creation of a comprehensive safety management plan to be used in the case of future such catastrophic events, Melius cites the importance of ensuring that there was “no reason” why the recovery effort at the World Trade Center could not have been stopped after the initial rescue phase so that safety measures could be appropriately installed for the remainder of the cleanup.
“Who knows what current tragedies could have been avoided if there had been, for example, more masks and protective gear at ground zero,” says Centore, “or even just some formal training on how to handle the debris.”
One of the Them is a searing account of Centore’s months spent at ground zero and the years he has since spent fighting a litany of serious health problems that put him among:
• Over 91,000 workers and volunteers who were exposed to ground zero’s toxic dust.
• An additional 400,000 New Yorkers who may have been heavily exposed and could face serious illnesses in the future.
• The 61% of first responders who developed lung ailments while cleaning up the site.
• An estimated 70% of the 50,000-plus first responders who have declared illnesses.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/slagheap/243442253/