At this point, saying that science has yet to directly link 9/11 exposure to the wide range of ailments suffered by Ground Zero workers is like poking a gorilla in the eye with a stick or commanding a boulder to stop rolling downhill.
After all, the city is ready to fork over more than $600 million to sick 9/11 cops, firefighters, construction workers and others who labored on “the pile” in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack. A federal judge, though, seems to think that number is too low. Meanwhile, folks in Congress want to set aside another $10 billion to cover ailing workers. And although there was initial skepticism about the link between the dust and disease, few now question it.
And yet, that’s exactly what Jeff Stier, associate director of the American Council on Science and Health, does in an op-ed in today’s New York Post.
“The fact remains that there is no credible evidence in the medical literature that exposure to Ground Zero dust can cause any chronic disease or condition,” Stier writes. “Some claim that only a few days of exposure at the World Trade Center site caused chronic lung disease and even cancer — but this is contrary to everything we know about epidemiology.”
Stier notes that the plaintiffs blame 387 different diseases or conditions on 9/11 exposure, including hepatitis C, cancer, skin ailments, asbestosis, asthma, and even multiple sclerosis.
While long-term work exposure to chemicals is a proven risk factor — working for years in a coal mine, for example — Stier says there’s no evidence that short-term exposure (defined as days or months) causes illness.
Now, Stier, a lawyer by training, is the associate director of the American Council on Science and Health, an organization founded “to counter misinformation about the relationship between chemicals, nutrition, the environment, and health,” according to Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president and co-founder. So, just keep that in mind.
But there are others who are willing to point out the flaws in the underlying basis for a huge payout to Ground Zero workers. Stier notes that Dr. Kenneth Prager, a prominent lung doctor at Columbia University, has said, “There is no scientific validity to the claim that asbestosis is a result of 9/11 exposure.”
New York Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney are pushing a bill in Congress that would set aside $10 billion for treatment of 9/11 workers. Ironically, the bill is named after James Zadroga, a cop who death was linked by a New Jersey pathologist to Ground Zero exposure, but the city Medical Examiner later ruled he died of overuse of prescription drugs.
The bill, Stier says, would cover anyone who is ill and who can prove they worked at Ground Zero. They wouldn’t have to show any direct link between their illness and the exposure. “The legislation allows them to circumvent the legal process,” he says. “Usually, you would have to go to court to prove it.”
Stier’s piece was his second on the subject. Each time, he says, he gets angry phone calls and voice messages, “stuff with foul language, a lot of vitriol.”
“No one wants to look at the epidemiology anymore,” Stier tells the Voice. “The question is: Was there a causal relationship? If you look at a cohort of people over 10 years, a lot of them are going to get sick. When you have emotion ruling, science becomes critically important. I’m just asking the question.”