Thursday, October 14, 2004

"From a public health perspective, we failed horribly"

Good article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the heroic efforts of Dr. Stephan Levin at the Mt. Sinai Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine and his efforts to help World Trade Center rescue and cleanup workers who continue to suffer from chronic lung disease:
The 62-year-old Philadelphia native is director of a $12 million research and monitoring program at Mount Sinai Hospital for ground-zero workers - police, fire, rescue, construction, utility and volunteer workers - who helped in the aftermath of the attacks. Levin blames the government for failing to anticipate and then properly treat health problems caused by the attacks, the worst environmental disaster in the city's history.

Of the 12,000 workers and volunteers Mount Sinai has screened so far, sampling suggests that about half have persistent respiratory problems, such as asthma, inflammation and sinusitis, Levin said. For some, the illness is so severe that they can't work.

Of the estimated 6,000 with symptoms, none has recovered completely. About 300 firefighters have retired with disabilities from injuries and illnesses they believe are related to World Trade Center work.

The attacks sent up a toxic mix of asbestos, ground glass, concrete and dangerous chemicals such as benzene. The toxic cloud was bound to make some people sick. But Levin said the bigger priority for the government was reopening the financial markets and showing the world that America would not be cowed. People's health was secondary, he said.

On Sept. 18, 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a statement saying the air in Lower Manhattan was safe to breathe even though the EPA had not finished tests for mercury, cadmium, lead, dioxin and other chemicals. The EPA Inspector General, an internal watchdog, released a report last summer seconding Levin's criticisms, and suggesting White House pressure affected the judgment that the air was clean.
You can read a speech that Dr. Levin gave at the NYCOSH 25th Anniversary Awards Ceremony last May here.