With the anniversary of 9/11 coming up, this should be the only story we're talking about in relation to it, quite frankly.
The largest health study yet of the thousands of workers who labored at ground zero shows that the impact of the rescue and recovery effort on their health has been more widespread and persistent than previously thought, and is likely to linger far into the future.
The study, released yesterday by doctors at Mount Sinai Medical Center, is expected to erase any lingering doubts about the connection between dust from the trade center and numerous diseases that the workers have reported suffering. It is also expected to increase pressure on the federal government to provide health care for sick workers who do not have health insurance.
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.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the EPA was extremely quick to call Ground Zero "safe." AmericaBlog digs up this story that specifically states how the Bush Administration minimized the toxic impact of the site:
An Environmental Protection Agency memo claims city and federal officials concealed data that showed lower Manhattan air was clouded with asbestos after the World Trade Center collapse.
And officials sat on the alarming information even as they told the public it was safe to return downtown, the internal memo says.
Testing by the city Department of Environmental Protection showed the air downtown had more than double the level of asbestos considered safe for humans, claimed federal EPA environmental scientist Cate Jenkins, who supplied the memo to The Post.
The data, which Jenkins says she culled from state records, appear damning.
On the day after the attack, the memo claims, city test results from the corner of Centre and Chambers streets and from the corner of Spruce and Gold streets showed asbestos concentration at about twice the level considered safe by the EPA.
The city did not release this information to the public, Jenkins says.
The next day, Sept. 13, city tests were "overloaded" with asbestos in the air so much that the lab could not conclude precise amounts along Church Street.
Again, the information was withheld, the memo claims.
When the city published the test results for the weeks following 9/11 on its Web site in February 2002, there were 17 instances where the data was either understated or left blank, Jenkins asserts in her report.
"New York City could wiggle out of the [claim of] concealment, because they weren't making any explicit statements about data at the time," Jenkins told The Post. "But the EPA can't wiggle out of this. They said the air was safe at the same time they were coordinating data with the city."
To drive her point home, Jenkins compares statements made by the EPA on the same day test data was showing dangerous levels of asbestos.
On Sept. 18, then-EPA administrator Christie Whitman said the public in lower Manhattan was not being exposed to "excessive levels of asbestos."
That same day, city testing data, some of which was later made public, showed asbestos levels 50 percent higher and more above what her agency considers safe, the memo states.
It's honestly no surprise that when two of the world's largest buildings, constructed in the 1970s, fall to the ground, that's going to kick up a lot of toxic materials into the air. For the Bush Administration to say "no problem" and send cleanup crews and rescue workers into such an environment represents just how little they care about our public safety.
This goes right along with the US Army rejecting a system that would protect our troops from RPGs because it was built by an Israeli company instead of Raytheon, who has a contract or the same kind of device but hasn't delivered it yet. This is not an isolated incident of favors for contractors in Iraq. T. Christian Miller, a writer for the LA Times, has a book out called Blood Money about this national scandal. He writes at The Huffington Post:
I wrote Blood Money in an attempt to answer that basic question. A couple of quick realities: The first problem was trying to rebuild the country in the middle of a war zone. It shouldn't take a degree from Yale to tell you that isn't smart. At one point, the U.S. was spending $4 million dollars a day just to feed the contractors, whether they did any work or not. There were sometimes 5 body guards for each engineer on a job.
The second problem was the Bush administration decided to contract out the rebuilding. Blood Money tells how U.S taxpayers paid Halliburton millions to build an oil pipeline under a river. The company never finished. We paid Bechtel million more to build a hospital for one of Laura Bush's favorite charities. That has yet to be finished, either.
A final, fundamental problem was motivation. The 82nd airborne is different than Wal Mart. The battle field is not the board room. You had fine soldiers like U.S. Army Col. Ted Westhusing, 3rd in his class at West Point, who was found dead in his trailer after clashing with contractors. Whether it was a suicide or something more nefarious, the result was the same. Westhusing's--and by extension the U.S. military's--ability to succeed was frustrated by making private companies responsible for rebuilding. American soldiers have the most at stake in winning hearts and minds. When they undertook that mission, via civil affairs units or under the leadership of people like Gen. Pete Chiarelli, ordinary soldiers often did an amazing job with small amounts of money. The soldiers should have been on the front lines of the rebuilding effort. Instead, they were sidelined by the Pentagon's mania for outsourcing.
The Bush Administration would rather reward contractors, in Iraq as sure as in Lower Manhattan, than keep Americans safe. I don't know how you could interpret this any differently. And it's a disgrace.