According to a leading World Trade Center medical expert, there could be as many as 20,000 more cancers as a consequence of exposures to the contaminants that were released by the collapse of the Twin Towers and fires that burned for months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She also said more than 50 percent of the Firefighters who logged time at the site have a "persistent respiratory condition."
Those disclosures were made by Dr. Jacqueline Moline, director of the Northwell Health Queens World Trade Center Health Program at the June 11 House committee hearing in Washington D.C. on reauthorizing the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.
The WTC Health Program previously confirmed that there had been almost 12,000 WTC-related cancers among the first-responder community and those who lived, worked or attended school south of Houston St. from Sept. 11, 2001 through the clean-up that was officially completed in May 2002.
Dr. Moline told the House panel that the WTC Health Program had seen an exponential increase in numerous cancers and that “soon the day will come when there are more people that died of WTC-related diseases after 9/11 than perished that horrible day [2,973].”
Some of the most-common cancers documented include prostate, lung, breast [both female and male], and thyroid.
Responding to follow-up questions from U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, Dr. Moline said that cancers were only part of the WTC health fallout. “We are going to see folks with lung diseases that require lung transplants,” she said. “There already have been a number of individuals in the World Trade Center Health Programs that have required lung transplants from the glass and the concrete and everything else that caused a reaction in the lungs.”
Dr. Moline told the panel that 55,000 individuals “have been certified for at least one WTC-related health condition.” According to the WTC Health Program, more than 35,000 individuals suffer from two or more certified conditions.
“Over 50 percent of the firefighters who worked at the WTC have developed a persistent respiratory condition,” Dr. Moline said.
In addition to 90,000 first responders and close to 400,000 survivors who lived or worked south of Houston Street, she expressed concern for the close-to 20,000 public-school students who were sent back to 29 Department of Education facilities in the WTC hot zone after then-U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Todd Whitman said the air in lower Manhattan was safe to breathe less than a week after 9/11.
The WTC health data and projections will figure in the expected debate over reauthorizing the 9/11 VCF, which has been an economic lifeline for thousands of first-responders and survivors facing long-term disability and premature death from their exposure to 150 different contaminants in the air of lower Manhattan.
Light GOP Senate Support
Advocates for the VCF’s renewal report they have 300 House members, including 70 Republicans, signed on as co-sponsors. In the Republican-controlled Senate, progress has been slower, with just 38 of the 100 members on board, including seven Republicans. The measure was voted out of committee June 12 and sent to the full House.
The hearing was a "mark-up" session for the House committee on legislation that calls for reauthorizing the 9/11 VCF until 2090. Without congressional action, the fund will close on Dec. 18, 2020.
The VCF has been overwhelmed by an exponential jump in claims from both the first-responder and survivor communities. As a consequence, the fund’s Special Master, Rupa Bhattacharyya, announced in February that it would have to cut awards by 50 to 70 percent, depending on when they were filed. The fund had already committed $5 billion-plus of its $7.3-billion congressional appropriation and was faced with more new claims than it resolved in the five years since Congress re-authorized it.
Ms. Bhattacharyya testified that her agency's officials estimated it would cost an additional $12 billion to satisfy the claims they projected to receive by the end of next year.
Worried About Deficit
Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, the ranking Republican at the hearing, expressed concern that the reauthorizing legislation “creates an unlimited authorization for appropriations for the fund and extends it until the year 2090…and right now we have a $22-trillion Federal debt, and that’s just the thing that keeps us up at night. It makes us have to address these issues as responsibly as possible.”
He continued, “Our objective, of course, is fairness to all, and by all I mean all Americans including first-responders nationwide who heeded the call of service to the smoldering remains of terrorist attacks but also through the dense wildfire smoke of California and the wreckage following a Kansas tornado and the floods in Louisiana and all the other disasters and tragedies everywhere.”
Mr. Johnson's equating the nation’s obligation to first-responders handling natural disasters with those who responded to the 9/11 terrorist attack drew a sharp retort from former late-night talk-show host Jon Stewart.
'Not a New York Issue'
“When we talk about price [for renewal of the VCF], the attacks on 9/11 have been used by our government to justify all manner of policy and spending to the tune of trillions of dollars,” he said. “I am awfully tired of hearing that 9/11 is a New York issue. Al Qaeda did not shout ‘death to Tribeca.’ They attacked America and these men and women, and their response to it brought our country back. It is what gave a reeling nation a solid foundation to stand back upon to remind us why this country is great, of why this country is worth fighting for.”
In addition to Mr. Stewart, whose comments blasting the majority of subcommittee members who were absent from the hearing went viral, lawmakers heard from retired FDNY Lieut. Michael O’Connell; retired NYPD Detective Luis Alvarez; Anesta Maria St. Rose Henry, the widow of Candidus Henry, a 9/11 responder from Laborers Local 79, and Lila Nordstrom, a former student at Stuyvesant High School and WTC survivor advocate.
Congressman Nadler, who represents lower Manhattan, reminded his colleagues that he was one of the few elected officials who publicly challenged Ms. Whitman’s upbeat assessment of lower Manhattan’s air quality at the time she made it. And while he placed the ultimate blame on the terrorists for the death and destruction wrought by the attack, he said in light of the EPA pronouncements at the time, “the Federal Government has a very heavy responsibility for what happened.”
Three days after the 9/11 attack, it was the former New Jersey Governor who told reporters that “the good news continues to be that air samples we have taken have all been at levels that cause us no concern.”
Ms. Whitman’s reassurance and EPA’s press releases created a justification for reopening the Wall Street area on the Monday after 9/11. In subsequent comments made in 2016 to the Guardian newspaper, she said she was “very sorry that people are dying, and if the EPA and I in any way contributed to that, I’m sorry. We did the very best we could at the time with the knowledge we had.”
Two years after 9/11, an investigation by the EPA Inspector General found that the agency “did not have sufficient data and analyses to make such a blanket statement,” because “air monitoring data was lacking for several pollutants of concern.”
The OIG also revealed that it was President George W. Bush’s White House Council on Environmental Quality that heavily edited the EPA press releases “to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones.”
Despite the fact that samples taken indicated asbestos levels in lower Manhattan were between double and triple EPA’s limit, the CEQ described the readings as just “slightly above” the limit, the EPA IG found.
White House Propaganda?
And when the EPA Inspector General's officials tried to determine who had actually written the press releases, they “were unable to identify any EPA official who claimed ownership” because investigators were told by the EPA Chief of Staff that “final approval came from the White House.”
“She also told us that other considerations, such as the desire to reopen Wall Street and national security concerns, were considered when preparing EPA’s early press releases,” according to the agency's Inspector General.
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