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9/11 recovery workers: ‘Gov’t deceived, abandoned us’

Published Jul 3, 2006 3:36 PM

Millionaire Christine Todd Whitman, the Bush appointee who used to head the Environmental Protection Agency, said exactly one week after the collapse of the Twin Towers, “I’m glad to reassure the people of New York that their air is safe to breathe.”

Capitalist politicians, from President George W. Bush to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, put on hard hats for the cameras and praised the “first responders,” calling them heroes and offering all their support.

But today, thousands of those who worked at ground zero after the buildings collapsed are furious at the government, which they charge deceived and abandoned them.

This June 17, some 200 held a rally at the site to demand comprehensive health care for all those sickened by the work there after the disaster. “Many of the two dozen or so people who spoke at the event, including former recovery workers and their families, said that top federal, state and local officials seemed to be focusing on 9/11 memorials while workers who untangled the gnarled debris at ground zero continued to face red tape, resistance and skepticism over their claims.” (New York Times, June 18)

Like U.S. soldiers sickened by the Pentagon’s use of Agent Orange and depleted uranium in its wars for empire, these workers—whose health is failing after breathing in the toxic dust left by the towers’ collapse—are being treated as malingerers by a capitalist government that spends hundreds of billions each year for war and for state repression at home but has cut essential services.

Many former recovery workers who are too sick to labor now find themselves unemployed and joining the 45 million people in this country without health care.

A special program for 9/11 responders set up at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan has seen about 15,000 people since 2002, according to Dr. Robin Herbert. Almost five years after the collapse, it is still getting 100 new cases each month. So many are applying that there’s now a three-to-four-month backup. As of early this year, the program had received not one penny of government funds.

In January, WABC-TV Eyewitness News reported on the death of Chris Pellegrino, a cable installer who had worked at ground zero for months. He died of lung illness at age 42 after developing “World Trade Center cough.” The number of responders and recovery workers who have died, some in the prime of life, is now well over 30. Just one attorney, David Worby, said in January that 21 of his clients had died of Sept. 11-related diseases since mid-2004. (Associated Press, Jan. 18)

It took the death of a police detective, 34-year-old James Zadroga, for the state to finally acknowledge the link between breathing in the toxic dust and fatal lung disease. Zadroga’s father said at the rally, however, that doctors and Police Depart ment officials had ignored his son’s sickness until it was too late.

Doctors at Mount Sinai say they’re now seeing more cases of the severe lung scarring that killed Zadroga. (Newsday, June 1) They also report that cancers of the blood, kidney and pancreas are appearing among this group at a rate much higher than in the general population.

After 9/11, Congress rushed to pass the Patriot Act, which has turned into a huge boondoggle for big business. (See accompanying article, p. 10.) But when it comes to allocating tax money for a real public health program that would end the crisis in health care, these servants of capital run the other way.