Much the same way the U.S. government denied the chemical defoliant Agent Orange was the cause of widespread deaths and cancer among military personnel returning from Viet Nam, the City of New York and the New York City Police Department have repeatedly refused to recognize that hundreds, if not thousands, of rescue and recovery workers, who toiled at Ground Zero, are now seriously ill or dying from the effects of exposure to the toxic cloud that hung over the area for weeks following the terrorist attacks 9/11.
Any such admission by the City and the NYPD would have far reaching effects since it would potentially force the re-classification of disability pensions and death benefits due to the injured police officers or their survivors.
It would also seriously affect the ongoing litigation against the City and other defendants that focuses on the negligent handling of the cleanup efforts that exposed thousands of city and private-sector workers and volunteers to the toxic hazards that were produced when the twin towers collapsed.
In an effort to demonstrate the causal connection between exposure to those toxins and the growing number of deaths, cancers, and other diseases, the DetectivesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Endowment Association (DEA) called a news conference to announce that the results of an autopsy done on Det. James Zadroga by the Ocean County, New Jersey, Medical Examiner.
That autopsy found that Det. Zadroga died as a direct result of respiratory failure brought on by the exposure to toxic substances and fine particles that he inhaled while working for some 470 hours at Ground Zero.
Det. ZadrogaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wife died of a stress-related heart attack only last year. His death earlier this year left his daughter an orphan.
The DEA wants Det. ZadrogaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s death re-classified as having been in the Ã¢â‚¬Å“line of dutyÃ¢â‚¬Â so that his daughter will be able to receive a larger pension (100% instead of 75%) for at least seven additional years.
A number of other detectives appeared at the news conference. Each is suffering from serious respiratory problems or cancers that have left them totally disabled or terminally ill.
These NYPD officers are but a small number of the thousands of rescue workers and other responders who are claiming that the toxic cloud of airborne chemicals and solid particles that hung over the WTC site for weeks has killed and permanently injured many of them.
Shortly after Det, ZadrogaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s death in January, the New York Daily News reported that 22 other relatively young men may also have died from respiratory-related illnesses caused or accelerated by their exposure to the same toxic environment while aiding in the post-9/11 cleanup.
Like Zadroga, most of the 22 men were only in their 30s and 40s. According to their families, they have died as a result of the deadly mixture of chemicals they were exposed to as they searched for survivors in the ruins of the World Trade Center or aided in the clean-up efforts in the days and weeks following the terrorist attack.
While the attack was immediately responsible for killing almost 3,000 innocent victims who were in and around the WTC, it now appears 9/11 has had, and will continue to have, far reaching effects on possibly thousands of other individuals who responded to the catastrophe that day and in the weeks that followed as part of the massive rescue, recovery, and cleanup efforts, without any regard to their own personal safety.
Many medical experts have already expressed serious concern that the first responders, rescue and recovery workers, volunteers of all kinds, and construction workers at the scene will inevitably suffer significant, if not fatal, health consequences as a result of their protracted exposure to all types of dust, debris, toxins, and other dangerous substances that polluted the WTC disaster site for several months following the collapse of the WTC buildings.
Among the additional 22 who have died are private employees, a sanitation worker, a correction officer, a utility worker, transit workers, firefighters, and police officers. Some, like Zadroga, suffered from black lung disease, while others died from cancers of the esophagus and pancreas.
David Knecht, a Lucent Technologies employee, worked for two months to re-establish communications at businesses near Ground Zero. At 35 he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died in March 2005, leaving behind two girls, now ages 3 and 4.
His wife Cathleen Knecht, 38, of Berkeley Heights, N.J. said “He was a nonsmoker and a swimmer.”
Knecht was one of many who have claimed to have been sickened with debilitating and potentially deadly ailments related to their presence at the WTC site. Thousands are sick and suffering from respiratory illnesses. Nearly 400 firefighters and paramedics have left the job because of career-ending illnesses that followed their work at Ground Zero.
David Worry, the attorney for approximately 7,300 Ground Zero workers says that rescue and clean-up workers were not properly protected for the dangerous job they had to perform. “This was a toxic waste site. People should have been walking around in moon suits.”
He anticipates there will be many more deaths and illnesses from workerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s exposure to deadly waste at Ground Zero. It is estimated that as many as 40,000 people worked at the site in the months after 9/11.
WorryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s firm has filed a class-action lawsuit, which is pending in United States District Court in Manhattan. The suit alleges that government officials and construction contractors negligently exposed workers to dangerous levels of toxins at the cleanup site.
Presently, attorneys for the City of New York deny any direct medical link between exposure to debris and the respiratory illnesses and cancers. Doctors treating Ground Zero workers are also skeptical because cancers resulting from toxic exposure can take up to 15 to 20 years to develop.
They are disturbed, however, by the substantial number of young people who have died or become ill following similar exposure to the same environmental conditions.
“It’s still too early to say if WTC responders are at increased risk for cancer,” said Dr. Robin Herbert, director of the World Trade Center Health Effects Treatment Program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “But we remain very concerned.”
Another death involved Bob Shore, a city correction officer, who worked at the makeshift morgue at Ground Zero for at least two weeks, wearing only a paper mask. At the end of his first day handling body parts, Shore climbed into the shower fully dressed and cried for two hours.
Shore, a 53-year-old father of two died last August from pancreatic cancer. His doctor attributes his disease, which caused the once 300-pound bodybuilder to waste away to 110 pounds and to have his gallbladder, spleen and pancreas removed, to his work at Ground Zero.
Shore’s widow, like many families of 9/11 recovery and rescue workers, says she now faces the impossibility of paying the medical bills, as much $200,000 for all her husbandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s treatments.
Nevertheless, Michelle Shore remembers her husbandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s selfless contribution to the recovery efforts: “He never regretted doing it,” she said “He was my hero, the city’s hero.”
Among the 7,300 plaintiffs in the class-action are several cancer cases including at least eleven for what is normally a rare, and often deadly, form of brain cancer. Three of the victims have already died and many of the others are seriously ill or dying. In all, 41 deaths are now alleged to have been caused by toxic exposure.
The police union and the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the class-action have pointed to police officers, firemen, a Red Cross worker, an EMS technician, an EPA employee, a construction worker, and other responders as examples of what appears to be an alarming (and growing) number of brain cancer victims.
Regardless of whether some degree of liability is found on the part of the City of New York or any governmental agency, there seems to be little doubt that the number of victims of 9/11 will continue to climb for years or decades to come and that the full extent of the injuries and deaths caused to those who lived, worked, responded to, or were born near Ground Zero may never be known. The Zadroga autopsy may have supplied the first hard evidence of the connection.