Ground Zero will be remembered with many images, news stories, events and editorials as we approach its 5th anniversary. One news item should not be necessary. According to Medical News Today our government, in the tradition of its Katrina response, did not provide a clear warning to the responders and the public about the dangers in the air. As a result, 70% of the responders have developed chronic and disabling illnesses that will likely be permanent.
Why were ground zero rescue workers not properly protected as they attempted to help thousands of desperate victims?
According to lawmakers, the government assured the public that the air at ground zero, and its surroundings, was safe.
Public messages were bungling. While being told that the air was safe by Christie Todd Whitman, head of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) at the time, they were also advised to wear breathing gear. So, which bit of advice were people to follow? The one about the air being safe, or the one about wearing protective gear? One does not have to be a rocket scientist to see the ambiguity in those two simultaneous statements. Chairman of yesterday’s meeting, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn), said the statements “defied logic and everybody knows that.”
At yesterday’s hearing, Dr. Robin Herbert, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, said “There is no question that, as a result of their horrific exposures, thousands of World Trade Center responders have developed chronic and disabling illnesses that will likely be permanent.” According to a new report from Mount Sinai Medical Center, 70% of rescue workers who were at ground zero experienced serious respiratory (lung) problems.
US public officials have had two recent occasions where the public have been able to judge their competence in responding to serious disasters effectively – 9/11 and Katrina.
If, heaven forbid, there is another disaster one day, how will public officials respond?