By Rowan Wolf of Uncommon Thought Journal
Having just passed the fifth anniversary of September 11, 2001, and having watched at least four programs on the ongoing health issues of first responders, and those near the World Trade Center, I wonder about living versus dead heroes.
Heroes are those who have shown significant courage. “Courage” is defined as “the ability to control fear and to be willing to deal with something that is dangerous, difficult, or unpleasant (Cambridge Dictionary).
Those who raced to save the NY victims of 9/11/01, and later spent months digging through the rubble to find the slightest fragment of remains, were courageous. They took on unpleasant and fearful tasks. Many died. Many more have survived. However, because of the risk involved, heroes often do not survive unscathed.
Lingering injury and disability conflict with “heroic” images. These problems can make them very expensive. It seems to me that we live in a time when the “good” heroes are conveniently dead heroes. Studies show that roughly 70 % of the first responders and workers at the World Trade Center have significant and lingering health problems. These are primarily respiratory and stomach problems, and include everything from black lung to an array of cancers. They are having to fight for medical care and for workers compensation. Many have been forced to retire. Doctors expect that it may be 15 to 20 YEARS before some of the aftereffects present themselves.
These are “inconvenient” heroes because they make politicians up and down the line look bad: from President Bush who promised to stand behind them and support them, to the EPA that lied about the health risks at ground zero (and the surrounding area), to the state of New York that won’t acknowledge their claims; to the City government who has been obstructive at best. These surviving heroes are an embarrassment.
Washington wanted to get back to business as usual as soon as possible. They thought it was more important to get the economic engine of Wall Street back up and running than ensuring public health. It is also likely that the rapid (and risky) response played well to the public politically.
So lies were told and safety measures ignored, and now tens of thousands of people are sick and dying. Those who are damaged extend beyond the people at ground zero and Fresh Kills to those who live and work in the surrounding area. School kids near the site are having health problems. Workers who were brought in to clean up the dust and debris are having health problems. Residents of the area who were told it was safe to return to their homes are having health problems. The lies from the politically edited EPA report have damaged so many lives.
The workers at ground zero and Fresh Kills have lost an average of 12 years of lung usage. That means they have lost an average of 12 years of their lives. For what? Safety equipment could have been provided and required to be used – as it was at the Pentagon. After the initial response, all but necessary workers could have been withdrawn from the site. The clean up should have been dealt with as a major toxic disaster. Instead, those toxins were spread all over the area by trucks running debris through the streets 24/7. Residents and workers should have been kept out of the area until cleanup of all areas was completed. Many of the buildings still have not been decontaminated.
This is not unlike what has happened in the wake of hurricane Katrina. It too left a large toxic mess in its wake, and workers and residents are largely unprotected from the hazards. Instead, rebuilding as fast as possible is the first and most important goal – no matter how many lives are damaged in the process. Also similar to New York, immigrant laborers (including large numbers of undocumented laborers) largely filled the gap for the least desirable jobs. In NY, they crawled through the ventilation ducts (without masks), and in New Orleans they ripped out mold and chemical infested debris (without masks or gloves). What do we value? It is not surprising that some of these New York workers refer to themselves as “heroes to zeroes.”
The first responders and workers struggle with survivor’s guilt. Many of them are struggling … but they are alive … and they were told they were heroes. Publicly fighting for their rights seems cheap and unworthy of heroes. But what about the other heroes? What about those who live in the area and returned? What about the workers who went back to contaminated work places? What about the school children and staff who returned to classes in buildings with deadly dust blowing through the vents?
When does a hero become a victim, and who are they the victims of? Unfortunately, for most of these victims “terrorists” are not to blame for their problems. It is the government that was responsible for their health and safety. It is their government who lead them to believe they were safe because it was expedient (and cheaper) to promote a lie than do the right thing. Now, five years after the fact, the government still does not want to do the right thing – not for the first responders and recovery crews, and certainly not for the residents and workers.
It is clear that our political leaders do not have 1/100th the courage of the inconvenient heroes. Yes dead heroes are definitely preferable to living ones. The myths don’t get tarnished by the realities of being “courageous,” and lies can be more easily buried.
Hopefully the recent coverage of these problems will force an appropriate response and much needed help. However, it is up to us to apply the pressure on our elected representatives as well.
Related Articles 9/08/06 Fox News, Residents Rally to Highlight Ground Zero Health Problems
9/05/06 CBS, Lung Problems Plague 9/11 Workers
Sundance Channel, Dust to Dust
9/09/06 Barrett, AP, Lawmakers Say Ground Zero Workers Unsafe
Confined Space, Ground Zero Workers: The Continuing Cost Of A Cover-Up
9/12/06 Sierra Club, Pollution and Deception At Ground Zero
Sierra Club Report. Harmful Legacy of Pollution and Deception at Ground Zero: How Post 9/11 Disaster Endangers America (pdf)