In just a few weeks, our country will “come together” to memorialize the thousands of Americans murdered ten years ago at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, including 343 brave and courageous firefighters.
I envision that at some point, we will all pause and bow our heads, say a prayer, and otherwise honor the memories of the bravery exemplified on that horrific day as hundreds of firefighters committed their lives to the rescue of those trapped in each of the twin towers.
Of course, we all know what happened. The towers collapsed, and thousands lost their lives. But many of the rescuers who survived the initial collapse needed rescuing themselves. Amid acrid and unhealthy conditions, thousands took up that challenge, and stepped up to perform those rescues.
The toxic swirl that engulfed lower Manhattan after the attacks included known carcinogens. Many workers, relying upon government assurances that the air in lower Manhattan was safe, took few precautions or none whatsoever.
In the time since, many have been stricken by leukemia, thyroid, blood, brain and other cancers. Worker-advocacy groups, and doctors who have treated many first-responders, tie the cancers to exposure to the toxic dust and debris at the WTC site.
Questions on the air quality at Ground Zero were posed by rescuers almost immediately. We urgently checked with our experts in the government, asking that, with all the lead, asbestos and other known carcinogens in “the pile” was it safe for anyone to be searching without adequate respiratory protection?
While we were smart enough to pose the question, were we dumb enough to believe the answer?
Many remember the smiling EPA Administrator looking directly into the camera to reassure the country as thousands continued their frantic searches.
“The concentrations of (asbestos and lead) are such that they don’t pose a health hazard. We’re going to make sure everybody’s safe.” -Christine Todd Whitman, Bush Administration EPA Administrator (2001-2003)
Today, the sad reality is that cancer has stricken hundreds of police, firefighters and volunteers who spent hours, days and months searching "the pile" at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan – first in a rescue mission after the Sept. 11 attacks, then as part of the recovery operation.
This week, despite this “anecdotal” evidence to the contrary, a review by NIOSH determined there exists too little scientific evidence linking cancer to time spent amid the dust and wreckage at Ground Zero. Cited in the failure to link was “a lack of research.”
That means, for now, cancer victims do not qualify for compensation and treatment under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
Don’t worry, though. More research will take place and, if the findings change, those sick and dying might be able to apply for benefits at that time. The deadline will be September of 2013, unless new links are found. Then the application deadline could be extended even further.
The message now to the sick and dying is “hang in there”.
After all, it’s only been ten years. What’s the rush?