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New Yorkers Tell Federal Officials To Stop Ignoring 9/11’s Health Effects

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Hundreds of residents gathered last night at New York’s St. Paul’s Chapel–across the street from the former World Trade Center site — to demand the federal government stop ignoring the health effects from 9/11. We hear some of their voices. [includes rush transcript]

In New York, hundreds of residents gathered last night at St. Paul’s Chapel–across the street from the former World Trade Center site–to demand the federal government stop ignoring the health effects from 9/11. At the meeting residents had a chance to share their concerns with the federal 9/11 Health Coordinator, Doctor John Howard. This is what they had to say:

  • Diane Lapson, Independence Plaza Tenants Association
  • Kathryn Freed, Former New York City Councilwoman
  • Karah Newton, Beyond Ground Zero Network
  • Tom Goodkind, Downtown Manhattan Resident

Hours before the town hall meeting, the Bush administration’s top health official–Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt met with New York legislators. He vowed to give $75 million for Sept . 11 health programs. This is Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York:

  • Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D- NY)

On Thursday, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency defended the agency’s role after 9/11. Christine Todd Whitman was interviewed by 60 Minutes.

  • Christine Todd Whitman, former EPA Administrator.

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StorySep 07, 2021Joe Zadroga: My 9/11 Responder Son Died from Exposure to Ground Zero as Officials Denied Connection
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Here in New York, hundreds of residents gathered last night at St. Paul’s Chapel across the street from the former World Trade Center site to demand the federal government stop ignoring the health effects from 9/11. Juan, you were the moderator of this event. Can you talk about it? It was very heated.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Heated and emotional. Hundreds of people poured out: political leaders; scientific experts, who talked about some of the studies that have been done, both of Ground Zero workers and residents of the area; and then, of course, the community itself, many, many people, too many actually to be able to speak, because there was a time limit to get out of the church. But they basically raised the same questions over and over again. Five years later, there’s been very little done by the government at the national or local level to begin treating and dealing with the enormous health problems that persist and will be persisting for decades, among both residents and Ground Zero workers.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s watch just an excerpt of what happened.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Well, at the meeting, residents had a chance to share their concerns with federal 9/11 Health Coordinator, John Howard, who was there. This is what they had to say.

DIANE LAPSON: Diane Lapson, I am the president of the Independence Plaza Tenant Association. For everybody here, there’s at least a hundred people that aren’t here. And the most sick are not here, because they can’t. I think the biggest sickness that we all suffer from is the fact that the people who lived downtown were so brave and so amazing and helped and volunteered while fires were burning, while we knew we were risking our health. Our federal government never thanked us for the hard work that we did down here. And we’re suffering greatly. Everybody’s sick. And the wonderful American government that we all waited for has not arrived.

KATHRYN FREED: Kathryn Freed, I was Councilperson at 9/11, and what I want to speak about is, I live downtown, 24/7. I didn’t leave after 9/11, except for one week, because my doctor told me I had bronchitis. If I didn’t get out of town, I was going to have pneumonia. I went away for a week, and I came back. And several months later, Dr. Steve Levine at a hearing in the City Council heard me coughing and said, “Come see me immediately.” And then he diagnosed me as having chronic chemically induced bronchitis with reactive airways, and I found out that, like many other people, I had — because of the causticity of the air, my entire respiratory system was burned. You know, the same kind of symptoms — and by the way, I still have problems with breathing today. If I’m around a match or anything strong chemical, even strong perfume, I still get chest pains. I still can’t breathe. And my breathing now is so bad that, where before 9/11 I used to do 45 minutes flat out on a treadmill, now I’m huffing and puffing when I just make it up the steps of the subway.

But like, what Diane said is true. We’re all still waiting. I fought as hard as I could with so many of the people here, because we knew what was going to happen. We practically begged the federal government to listen to us. I was down at the site maybe two days, and I’m proud to say it’s because I snuck in those independent environmental testers so they could get the truth out of what the air was like. But, you know, we’re still waiting. Whoever made — when the EPA lied to us, when the city decided it was more important to open up Wall Street and to open up our schools than our health, you know, it’s like collateral damage, which is what I feel like. And I think that’s what we were. If I’m going to die 20 years too early, I at least want to know about it, and I want to know now what I can do about it, as does everybody else in this room.

KARAH NEWTON: My name is Karah Newton, and I’m a member of the Beyond Ground Zero Network. While, with all due respect to the scientists and the doctors that have investigated this problem, everybody who lived down here knew this was a problem from the very beginning. We knew that this air was toxic. We went on from the very beginning to say that this air is toxic, our kids have asthma, I’m having breathing problems. And the only thing that we were told was to go back to work, to stay in our homes, to keep breathing that air and to clean it up ourselves.

This is a time for action. This is a time for the federal government to take direct action. We need comprehensive medical care. We need long-term solutions now. I want no more taking baby steps, no more half-measures. Right now, here today, on the fifth anniversary, we declare as a unified residents and workers in Lower Manhattan that we will not wait any longer, because we had to band together from the very beginning. We had no other choice. We had no other resources, because the attention that was paid was not on the people who stayed in Lower Manhattan. And we banded together and started a program at Bellevue Hospital. We banded together and protested in the streets, when everybody was saying that it was fine. But I call on everybody sitting here, whether as elected officials or government officials or doctors, residents and workers, we need to come together and say we will not tolerate anymore the waiting. We will not tolerate anymore the half-measures. Today, we will act, because I do not want to be back here five years later and keep saying the same thing and congratulating for one little more effort.

TOM GOODKIND: My name is Tom Goodkind. I’m nobody special. I’m just a resident of downtown Manhattan. I’ve got to say to most of you guys who are here tonight, I saw you a few years ago, and I thought you were a little kooky. And I came down with my family, and I believed almost everything that was said. And my kids are at home, and they’re screaming and yelling at me now for coming back. And when my daughter told me, “Hey, Daddy, why do all of the children at our local school, PS 89, have these inhalers now? What are they?” And let me tell you something. I don’t think any of the groups have looked at the children of our neighborhood. And, I mean, forget about me. I’ve had a lot of onset illnesses. I’ve lived my life. Take care of our kids. Set up these clinics at our schools. For God’s sake, help our children.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Hours before the town hall meeting, the Bush administration’s top health official, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, met with New York legislators. He vowed to give the $75 million for September 11 health programs. This is Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: At our meeting, Secretary Leavitt said he was going to put the A-team on this issue now. Well, I felt like saying, it’s five years, and now we’re getting the A-team? What did we have, the B-team, the C-team, no team? What did we have? But I’m glad that the A-team is now being put on this issue five years later, after people have been dying and people are sick. And my question to the officials in the city of New York who finally came out with the guidelines five years later — we have the SARS guidelines out; we have the Asian flu — why did it take them five years to be able to send to our doctors the protocol of what to look for for people who were exposed to those deadly toxins? And I mean all people, residents, school children, workers, not just the responders, our heroes and heroines, but all people. It took them five years to get it out. And in one of the reports from Mount Sinai, they reported that 30% to 40% of the people who came to their monitoring program were misdiagnosed and medically mistreated and misdiagnosed.

Again, I ask our government, with this responsibility, how in the world after the heat wave you can come out and give us a report, a detailed report, that eight people died during that heat wave, yet we don’t have one official report on how many people died because of 9/11 health-related issues? On 9/11, and we have to remember, because of our responders, it is listed as one of the greatest rescue efforts in the history of our country. I was here on 9/12, and our officials thought the death toll was near 25,000, maybe higher. Up to 3,000 people lost their lives. But we have to come to grips that many, many more thousands lost their health. And this government, that is spending $300 billion in Iraq, has got to spend some money on treating the people who are here working to help the people in our city.

AMY GOODMAN: New York Congressmember Carolyn Maloney. On Thursday, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency defended the agency’s role after 9/11. Christine Todd Whitman was interviewed by Katie Couric on 60 Minutes.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: The readings were showing us that there was nothing that gave us any concern about long-term health implications. That was different from on the pile itself at Ground Zero. There, we always said consistently, you got to wear protective gear.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Christine Todd Whitman, former head of the EPA and also former governor of New Jersey. Juan, more and more is now coming out around Christine Todd Whitman.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, and actually she is now obviously blaming Mayor Giuliani and the city for some of the problems of lack of protection. So now the finger pointing is beginning to spread to higher levels. The reality is that there’s plenty of blame to go around for both. There was actually a National Institute of Environmental Safety and Health study in early October 2001 that said, yes, there was a problem, that most of the workers at Ground Zero were not being properly protected, but that the City of New York, as incident commander — see, the problem was that for a long time in the first days after 9/11, the site was being treated as an emergency rescue operation, and therefore, the City of New York, the Fire Department and Mayor Giuliani were in charge.

Once it became clear that no survivors were left, which only took a few days, at that point, it really became a recovery operation, and the federal government should have stepped in. However, Giuliani insisted on maintaining control of the site. And the government, the federal safety officials, did not dare to challenge him. As a result, nobody was making sure that the workers were protected. So, while Christine Whitman is right that the mayor and the city bear responsibility because they controlled the site, the federal government had the legal authority to step in and take over and assure that everybody was being properly protected.

AMY GOODMAN: And just a few days ago we played that clip, yet again, of Christine Todd Whitman a few days after 9/11, assuring people that the air was clean, that people could go back to work.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Right. That’s one of the reasons why the rescue workers didn’t really listen when they were told, “Listen, you’ve got to wear respirators.” There weren’t even, in fact, enough proper respirators to be able to use, but those who did have them didn’t use them all the time, because they had been told that the air was safe by Christine Todd Whitman.

AMY GOODMAN: And I just want to say, I mean, now your paper, the New York Daily News, has been spearheading a campaign of concern around the rescue workers, around those who cleaned up September 11th. But you, Juan, very early on, when your paper wasn’t doing that, but you were as a columnist in the paper, were continually going after this issue at a time when the establishment didn’t want to talk about this, because it meant disrupting not only New York business, but because the New York Stock Exchange is based here, it meant disrupting business in the world.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Right. Well, and, of course, as Richard Clarke has made clear, the order to reopen Lower Manhattan came directly from President Bush. And in his book, Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke says he was in the White House Situation Room when the President gave the order to the Treasury-Secretary that he wanted Wall Street up and running within a week. And it was up and running within a week. And now, all of us are facing the consequences of that decision.

AMY GOODMAN: And, unfortunately, a lot of people, as they try to run, are gasping for air.

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