WTC Health Czar? No!

By ACSH Staff — Jan 30, 2006
This column first appeared in the New York Post.

This column first appeared in the New York Post.

Many who worked at the World Trade Center site in the days after 9/11 now have ongoing medical and psychological problems as a result of their heroic service. But the latest demands for a federal strongman to oversee all health-related monitoring and treatment of the many thousands who served at Ground Zero are nothing short of political posturing, aiming to exploit rather than assist the sick and suffering victims and rescuers.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan/Queens) and Vito Fossella (R-S.I./Brooklyn) have called for a "health czar" to assume full control of rescue workers' health concerns, asserting that there is "no one person" in the federal government in charge of this area. True enough -- but there are many other resources available to those injured or sickened from the WTC collapse and its aftermath (among whom is my wife, whose injuries were thankfully minor). Why do we need another layer of bureaucracy to care for these valiant survivors and rescuers?

Maloney and Fossella point to three recent deaths as a "crisis" warranting federal intervention on an urgent basis. But that's three deaths out of thousands of potential victims over the course of four-plus years -- which does notamount to a health crisis. Did those unfortunate folks have other health issues that accelerated their decline, such as smoking? We don't know.

Numerous programs are in place to help monitor, diagnose and treat those who sustained injuries and lung ailments while working Downtown in the aftermath of 9/11. Some are government sponsored, some philanthropic; many are both. For instance, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, working with the city Health Department, has established the World Trade Center Health Registry -- which has more than 71,000 people registered, and refers those who need help to the appropriate agency or clinic.

One such clinic is run by the Mt. Sinai Hospital and Medical Center. Their WTC Medical Monitoring Program evaluates all comers with Ground Zero-related ailments, and refers those who need treatment to various clinics. Those who lack health insurance get free treatment.

This doesn't seem like anyone in need of help is being abandoned.

Politicians looking for a sound bite should pay more heed to the effects such alarms have on the public, as well as on those who need help coping with the effects of 9/11. Some sick WTC workers may get the message from such press briefings that they have no recourse, which is not only false, but will lead them to grow even more desperate and anxious.

The only ones who might benefit from such tirades are the lawyers still looking to sue anyone they can target who had anything to do with the site, including the owner, the city and a dozen other stakeholders. Accusations of federal neglect will only encourage these class-action ghouls, who had the good taste to file their suit on the third anniversary of 9/11.

Maloney herself was instrumental in getting another $125 million freed up to continue federal support for monitoring and treatment of rescue workers who need further medical evaluations and treatments over the course of the next several years. She should stick to helpful efforts, and forget about political pandering.