Wednesday, September 06, 2006


9/11: How High the Count & Cost?

A few years back, the official death toll of New Yorkers killed in the 9/11 attacks was set at 2,752.

That number will likely climb as the years go by, given this
remarkably broad study conducted by Mount Sinai Medical Center:

Roughly 70 percent of nearly 10,000 workers tested at Mount Sinai from 2002 to 2004 reported that they had new or substantially worsened respiratory problems while or after working at ground zero.

The rate is similar to that found among a smaller sample of 1,100 such workers released by Mount Sinai in 2004, but the scale of the current study gives it far more weight; it also indicates significant problems not reflected in the original study.

For example, one-third of the patients in the new study showed diminished lung capacity in tests designed to measure the amount of air a person can exhale. Among nonsmokers, 28 percent were found to have some breathing impairment, more than double the rate for nonsmokers in the general population.

The study is among the first to show that many of the respiratory ailments — like sinusitis and asthma, and gastrointestinal problems related to them — initially reported by ground zero workers persisted or grew worse in the years after 9/11.
This report gives a scientific-research context to what previously had been anecdotal evidence, such as the death of NYPD detective James Zadroga. The question being asked now is how many lives will be cut short because of exposure to Ground Zero toxicity? And how many years will it take before th final toll is known?

Of course, if there is a health issue, the political component is not too far behind:
Members of the New York Congressional delegation, who have been fighting to get the federal government to recognize the scope of the health problem created by toxic materials at ground zero, saw the Mount Sinai study as proof that the federal government has been too slow to address the issue.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who participated in the news conference at Mount Sinai yesterday morning, along with Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn B. Maloney, said that the results made the need for federal assistance for treatment more critical than ever.

“This study, I hope, puts to rest any doubt about what is happening to those who were exposed,” said Mrs. Clinton, who was among those who pushed for $52 million in federal funding for health treatment for the ground zero workers, the first treatment money provided by the Bush administration. “This report underscores the need for continued long-term monitoring and treatment options — they go hand in hand,” she said.

Several members of the delegation are scheduled to meet in Washington tomorrow morning with Michael O. Levitt, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, to press for more aid.
Sen. Clinton managed to schedule both a press conference and a brand new campaign ad at the same time:
In that respect, Sen. Hillary Clinton danced an unseemly two-step yesterday, charging at the Mount Sinai press conference that "our government was not telling us the truth" about Ground Zero - then releasing a campaign ad . . . in which she alleges that "the government didn't tell the truth" about Ground Zero.
This does raise an interesting question though: Should the federal government -- or any government, for that matter, be responsible for a health condition that developed because of an act of war on the country?

Emotionally, the easy answer is "yes." But, it is not exactly the case that the government was responsible for the act -- and there was hardly any way to know what the conditions were when thousands of volunteers came down to Ground Zero.

Of course, those people suffering will be taken care of -- in the name of compassion. But, is a government actually obligated to do so?

It's a question that at least deserves pondering.

Five years later, 9/11 haunts New York in ways that many could not have begun to imagine.

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