The Shame of 9/11

Ten years have passed since 9/11 and I still have trouble watching those news clips the media likes to replay over and over again of that fateful day in 2001. It's still painful. And I thankfully, did not lose any of my friends who worked in the Twin Towers or surrounding areas. I was safely at work in midtown Manhattan when the planes hit. I remember for days after, the lighter debris from the World Trade Center's fallen towers would blow onto my street in Brooklyn and if the wind was blowing was east or north there was an unnerving stench in the air.
One image I cannot get out of my mind from that day, is the sight of the endless stream of firefighters entering the burning buildings. I remember the look on their faces of both hope and despair. They were bravely mobilized to search and save human life while knowing full well that they were sacrificing their own. On that day 343 New York firefighters, 15 EMTs lost their lives. Two thousand other first responders were injured. But in the process they assisted 16,000 people evacuate the collapsing buildings.

In the weeks after, thousands of first responders with inadequate protection and equipment spent endless hours digging through the mountain of ruble in search of life and human remains.

These men and women represent to me the best of humanity and should be celebrated and rewarded. They definitely deserve much better than the politicians who run this country.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pressured by the White House made the inane announcement promptly after the collapse of the buildings that despite all the dust and fumes and air contaminated with 24,000 gallons of jet fuel, glass, asbestos, cement, lead and other toxins was within healthy limits and that clean up should continue and that NY residents should resume to their activities downtown.
Inevitably, within 48 hours of working on the site after the attack, 90% of New York City firefighters complained of cough symptoms. Ten years later, we now know that not only did inhaling this air cause coughing, it is also caused asthma, gastrointestinal problems, scars on the lungs and significant increase in cancer amongst first responders. So instead of rewards and recognition, thousands of this nation's first responders were faced with failing health, loss of employment due to illness, bankrupting medical bills and death.

Finally in 2006, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was introduced to fund treatment programs and provide compensation funds to those who suffered physical harm or death in the World Trade Center attacks. But the bill did not pass. Nine years after the attacks in 2010, a revised bill was introduced with a lesser financial cost that excluded cancer from the list of illnesses covered in the legislation. This was the Democratic party's compromise in the hopes of attaining Republican support for the bill. This is despite studies from the Lancet Medical Journal that stated that those exposed to substances at Ground Zero were 19% more likely to develop cancer than those not exposed. This ridiculous exclusion has left nearly 10,000 Fire Department personnel little alternative to spend their life savings to pay for their medical treatment, if they could even afford it.

In the latter half of 2010 when the legislation was up for vote again, it became known that the Republican party planned to filibuster the revised bill citing that the $4.3 billion dollar price tag was still too high. (Although, they do not seem to have any problems funding $1.649 trillion for two wars or spending $1.2 trillion to bailout the financial industry.*)

It was not until comedian John Stewart started highlighting this legislation and all the political drama around it on his show, that prompted public outrage which finally resulted in the passage of the bill in December 2010 - more than nine years after the first health problems amongst the first responders became evident. However, since the bill still excludes cancer from any funding or support, the battle for many of the first responders still continues.

U.S. politicians so frequently cite 9/11 when it suits their political aims but when it comes to actually helping those, who so selflessly helped and saved so many on that horrible day, their interest in the attacks seems to shift. John Stewart described this fiasco best when he called it a 'national shame,' and the senators responsible for blocking this bill the 'worst responders.'

The attacks on 9/11 remains a painful moment in this country's history. It is appalling that the leadership of this country made it a much darker, more painful stain in the nation's memory.


No comments:

Post a Comment