NYC’s ‘Official’ Position On Deaths of Rescue and Recovery Workers Who Toiled at Ground Zero Does Not Square with the Medical and Scientific Evidence

By Steven DiJoseph

When it comes to human tragedies, there is always a big difference between what people know and what they will admit to. The facts determine the former while money, as in all other aspects of life, often determines the latter.Consider the following examples of this rather insincere view of reality:

Everyone knew safer cars could be designed and built but, for decades, the auto industry was able to delay the implementation of such things as seat belts, air bags, and emission systems because of the added expense involved. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of people died needlessly.

Cigarettes kill people, period. No secret there, right? Yet for decades, big tobacco hid and denied that fact while it continued to market its products without warnings and in a way that enticed people to smoke rather than to avoid it at all costs. Unnecessary death toll? Millions, at the very least – and continuing.

Agent Orange, the defoliant, that the U.S. saturated Viet Nam with from the air up until 1971, was loaded with powerful chemical agents that really had no business being dropped on civilians and military personnel. The dioxins Agent Orange (as well as Agents Purple, Pink, Blue, and Green) contained are carcinogens as well as teratogens. Once responsible scientists and doctors began linking cancers and other serious diseases in thousands of servicemen and their offspring directly to their exposure to those chemicals, the U.S. government, Dow Chemical and Monsanto refused to admit any such connection because it would have meant paying out damages to victims and additional benefits to veterans. Only decades of litigation have managed to coerce the government and the chemical companies into settlements with Americans, Australians, South Koreans, New Zealanders, and Canadians. The Vietnamese, however, remain uncompensated for the carnage the chemicals caused.

Every day, insurance companies that maintain they have their policyholders’ wellbeing in mind and advertise their willingness to pay quickly and fully on claims made by those policyholders, deny benefits whenever possible for a variety of bogus or highly questionable reasons. Many companies have been sued and found liable for such conduct. Of course, none of this ever stopped an insurance company from collecting its premiums.

In the case of many dangerous prescription drugs, pharmaceutical companies have repeatedly refused to admit having known and withheld data concerning adverse reactions and side-effects that appeared during clinical trials. Manipulation and deletion of information has also been proven in many cases where approved drugs have had to be pulled from the market after injuring and killing hundreds or thousands of people.

So, is it any wonder that the City of New York, through its Health Commissioner, Dr. Thomas Frieden, has taken the rather questionable position that he would be “surprised” if anyone could conclusively link the death of someone like NYPD Detective James Zadroga to the hundreds of hours he spent breathing in the toxic air at ground Zero as he helped in the rescue and recovery efforts.

The Commissioner stated: “An autopsy can determine whether there was damage to the lungs and it can determine whether that damage might have been related to foreign bodies. But whether that was related to [the World Trade Center], I don’t think that would be easy to say definitively.”

Of course, there is a very good reason why the Frieden has taken this position. Any admission by the City or the NYPD would have far reaching effects since it would potentially force the re-classification of disability insurance pensions and death benefits due to the injured police officers or their survivors.

It would also seriously affect the ongoing litigation against the City and other defendants that focuses on the negligent handling of the cleanup efforts that exposed thousands of city and private-sector workers and volunteers to the toxic hazards that were produced when the twin towers collapsed.

While the City often heaps additional benefits and posthumous promotions on police officers and firefighters killed in the “line of duty.” It has refused to acknowledge any such heroism on the part of the men and women who toiled without rest or regard for their own safety at the WTC site.

Speeches, plaques, and monuments are apparently one thing; conferring monetary benefits and admitting potential liability are something else.

Besides the anger and frustration expressed by Det. Zadroga’s parents, who now care for his orphaned 4-year-old daughter Tylerann, there is the medical and scientific evidence that 9/11 was not only a tragedy that killed almost 3,000 people instantly, but it was also an environmental catastrophe that has sickened countless people, had demonstrable effects on children born to mothers who lived near Ground Zero, and will probably kill or have long-term health effects on tens of thousands of people who were exposed to the toxic cloud that hovered over the site of the twin towers for months.

In an effort to demonstrate the causal connection between exposure to those toxins and the growing number of deaths, cancers, and other diseases, the Detectives’ Endowment Association (DEA) released the results of an autopsy done on Det. James Zadroga by the Ocean County, New Jersey, Medical Examiner.

That autopsy found that Det. Zadroga died as a direct result of respiratory failure brought on by the exposure to toxic substances and fine particles that he inhaled while working for some 470 hours at Ground Zero.

Det. Zadroga’s wife died of a stress-related heart attack only last year. His death earlier this year left his daughter an orphan.

The DEA wants Det. Zadroga’s death re-classified as having been in the “line of duty” so that his daughter will be able to receive a larger pension (100% instead of 75%) for at least seven additional years.

A number of other detectives appeared at the news conference. Each is suffering from serious respiratory problems or cancers that have left them totally disabled or terminally ill.

These NYPD officers are but a small number of the thousands of rescue workers and other responders who are claiming that the toxic cloud of airborne chemicals and solid particles that hung over the WTC site for weeks has killed and permanently injured many of them.

Shortly after Det, Zadroga’s death in January, the New York Daily News reported that 22 other relatively young men may also have died from respiratory-related illnesses caused or accelerated by their exposure to the same toxic environment while aiding in the post-9/11 cleanup.

Like Zadroga, most of the 22 men were only in their 30s and 40s. According to their families, they have died as a result of the deadly mixture of chemicals they were exposed to as they searched for survivors in the ruins of the World Trade Center or aided in the clean-up efforts in the days and weeks following the terrorist attack.

While the attack was immediately responsible for killing almost 3,000 innocent victims who were in and around the WTC, it now appears 9/11 has had, and will continue to have, far reaching effects on possibly thousands of other individuals who responded to the catastrophe that day and in the weeks that followed as part of the massive rescue, recovery, and cleanup efforts, without any regard to their own personal safety.

Many medical experts have already expressed serious concern that the first responders, rescue and recovery workers, volunteers of all kinds, and construction workers at the scene will inevitably suffer significant, if not fatal, health consequences as a result of their protracted exposure to all types of dust, debris, toxins, and other dangerous substances that polluted the WTC disaster site for several months following the collapse of the WTC buildings.

Among the additional 22 who have died are private employees, a sanitation worker, a correction officer, a utility worker, transit workers, firefighters, and police officers. Some, like Zadroga, suffered from black lung disease, while others died from cancers of the esophagus and pancreas.

David Knecht, a Lucent Technologies employee, worked for two months to re-establish communications at businesses near Ground Zero. At 35 he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died in March 2005, leaving behind two girls, now ages 3 and 4.

His wife Cathleen Knecht, 38, of Berkeley Heights, N.J. said “He was a nonsmoker and a swimmer.”

Knecht was one of many who have claimed to have been sickened with debilitating and potentially deadly ailments related to their presence at the WTC site. Thousands are sick and suffering from respiratory illnesses. Nearly 400 firefighters and paramedics have left the job because of career-ending illnesses that followed their work at Ground Zero.

David Worry, the attorney for approximately 7,300 Ground Zero workers says that rescue and clean-up workers were not properly protected for the dangerous job they had to perform. “This was a toxic waste site. People should have been walking around in moon suits.”

He anticipates there will be many more deaths and illnesses from worker’s exposure to deadly waste at Ground Zero. It is estimated that as many as 50,000 people worked at the site in the months after 9/11.

Worry’s firm has filed a class-action lawsuit, which is pending in United States District Court in Manhattan. The suit alleges that government officials and construction contractors negligently exposed workers to dangerous levels of toxins at the cleanup site.

The attorneys for the City deny any direct medical link between exposure to debris and the respiratory illnesses and cancers. Some doctors treating Ground Zero workers are also skeptical because cancers resulting from toxic exposure can take up to 15 to 20 years to develop.

They are disturbed, however, by the substantial number of young and otherwise healthy people who have died or become ill following similar exposure to the same environmental conditions.

“It’s still too early to say if WTC responders are at increased risk for cancer,” said Dr. Robin Herbert, director of the World Trade Center Health Effects Treatment Program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “But we remain very concerned.”

Another death involved Bob Shore, a city correction officer, who worked at the makeshift morgue at Ground Zero for at least two weeks, wearing only a paper mask. At the end of his first day handling body parts, Shore climbed into the shower fully dressed and cried for two hours.

Shore, a 53-year-old father of two died last August from pancreatic cancer. His doctor attributes his disease, which caused the once 300-pound bodybuilder to waste away to 110 pounds and to have his gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas removed, to his work at Ground Zero.

Shore’s widow, like many families of 9/11 recovery and rescue workers, says she now faces the impossibility of paying the medical bills, as much $200,000 for all her husband’s treatments.

Nevertheless, Michelle Shore remembers her husband’s selfless contribution to the recovery efforts: “He never regretted doing it,” she said “He was my hero, the city’s hero.”

Among the 7,300 plaintiffs in the class-action are several cancer cases including at least eleven for what is normally a rare, and often deadly, form of brain cancer. Three of the victims have already died and many of the others are seriously ill or dying. In all, 41 deaths are now alleged to have been caused by toxic exposure.

The police union and the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the class-action have pointed to police officers, firemen, a Red Cross worker, an EMS technician, an EPA employee, a construction worker, and other responders as examples of what appears to be an alarming (and growing) number of brain cancer victims.

In addition to these concerns was, and still is, the impact on babies of mothers who were pregnant when the attacks occurred and who lived within two miles of the World Trade Center.

As we reported only last month, the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health has been conducting an ongoing study called the World Trade Center Pregnancy Study. Other institutions, organizations, and independent researchers have also studied the actual and potential future effects the massive amounts of toxins that were released as a result of the fine particles of pulverized building materials and the fires that incinerated the debris thereby releasing any number of cancer-causing chemicals into the air.

A number of articles were published between August 2003 and late 2004 that documented the fact that babies born to mothers who were pregnant when the attacks occurred and who were in or near the collapsing towers or who lived in close proximity to the site were smaller and had lower birth weights.

On August 5, 2003, the Associated Press reported that:

“Exposed pregnant women in the study faced double the risk of delivering babies who were up to about a half-pound smaller than babies born to non-exposed women.

The size differences among babies born to women exposed to dirt and soot from the attacks suggest a condition called intrauterine growth restriction, or IUGR, which has been linked with exposure to air pollution.

Previous research also has found that babies affected by IUGR may be at increased risk for heart disease, hypertension and other health problems in adulthood, said Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s community and preventive medicine department, and one of the researchers.

While duration of the exposure was relatively short, ’the intensity of exposure to soot and dust was extraordinarily high,’ Landrigan said.

The study appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.”

The CCCEH study has published extensive amounts of information on the subject including the following:

“The destruction of the World Trade Center (WTC) on September 11, 2001 was an unprecedented environmental disaster, with enduring effects on the physical and psychological well-being of a nation. In lower Manhattan, the event released large amounts of dust and toxic pollutants into the air, including fine particulate matter derived from the burning of materials during the explosion and fires, construction debris, and asbestos. These exposures are known to be especially toxic to the vulnerable populations of pregnant women and their unborn infants, and have been linked to reduced fetal growth and subsequent neurodevelopmental problems. Widespread psychological distress could also affect birth outcomes and subsequent child functioning.

The Center’s study, launched in December 2001, is assessing the effects of prenatal exposure to contaminants released by the WTC destruction on gestational age, birth size, respiratory health, and neurocognitive development in 300 women who had term pregnancies. Thus far, study results show that babies born to women who were pregnant on 9/11 and lived near the WTC in the weeks after 9/11 were born lighter and shorter than were babies born to women living further away. Previous research shows that even small reductions in birth weight may lead to learning and behavioral problems.

The Center’s WTC Pregnancy Study is the only one of its kind to compare women with known exposure levels living and working close to the WTC site to a control group living and working further away from the site. The study is also unique in that pregnant women were enrolled prior to delivery, thereby eliminating participation bias that could arise from already knowing the outcome of their pregnancy.

Preliminary Findings

Results on birth size from the World Trade Center Study were published recently in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal.

Babies born to women who were living within 2 miles of the WTC in the month following 9/11/01 were on average 5 ounces lighter than babies born to women who lived further away.

Babies born to women who were living near the WTC in the month following 9/11 were on average 1/3 of an inch shorter at birth than babies born to women living further away.

All women were full term, however; women in their first 13 weeks of pregnancy on 9/11 (regardless of their distance from the WTC) had a shorter pregnancy by an average of 3.6 days compared to women who were in a later stage of pregnancy on 9/11. Babies born to mothers with shorter pregnancies had smaller head circumference than other babies.

Findings of decreased birth weight and length among full term infants of mothers who resided within 2 miles of the WTC site are potentially important for subsequent health and development. Lower birth weight, even within the normal range (>2500 g), is associated with increased fetal mortality, neonatal mortality, and infant mortality, subsequent poorer health, delayed physical and cognitive development, and increased susceptibility to stress in adulthood.”

In March, The New York Post ran an “EXCLUSIVE” by Susan Edelman that did an excellent job of bringing the public up to date on the progress and most recent findings of the CCCEH study.

In that article, interviews with investigators and the director of CCCEH, Dr. Frederica Perera, revealed that, as feared, genetic damage to the children being studied has been greater than in the case of other city children.

In fact, a considerable number of the children (about 50%) have DNA profiles with “significant levels of combustion-related toxins” (NY Post).

These findings are a sign of genetic damage and present the possibility of developmental damage and an increased risk of cancer although no such conclusions have been made at this point.

In light of this mountain of medical, scientific, and circumstantial evidence it is difficult to understand how the City can deny any causal connection between 9/11 and deaths like Det. Zadroga’s. Difficult to understand only until the money involved is considered, that is.

Regardless of whether some degree of liability is found on the part of the City of New York or any governmental agency, there seems to be little doubt that the number of victims of 9/11 will continue to climb for years or decades to come and that the full extent of the injuries and deaths caused to those who lived, worked, responded to, or were born near Ground Zero may never be known. The Zadroga autopsy may have supplied the first hard evidence of the connection despite what Commissioner Frieden says since his opinion appears to be driven more by economics than by medicine and science.

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