According to veteran New York Times reporter and foreign correspondent DePalma (The Man Who Invented Fidel: Castro, Cuba, and Herbert L. Matthews of the New York Times, 2006, etc.), in the aftermath of 9/11, even those “most experienced at rescue” made decisions that had tragic consequences.
The author, a member of the team that wrote the Pulitzer Prize–winning series “Portraits of Grief,” looks at the damage inflicted by the failure to adequately protect firefighters, police, construction workers and others in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center. He rejects any suggestion that there was a conspiracy by the Bush administration or New York City officials “to put profit ahead of people’s health” or “to hide the enormity of what happened.” However, he believes that a series of decisions, while neither outright subterfuge nor deliberate distortion of the facts, underestimated the danger from the toxic dust that covered the area of the explosion and buildings in the immediate neighborhood, needlessly exposing people to unnecessary health risks. “Some made in haste, some made with arrogance,” these decisions “favored the recovery of the city over the recovery of its people,” even though health-department and EPA officials, as well as firefighters, recognized that the dust was in all likelihood extremely toxic. Respirators were made available on-site, but they were unwieldy; rescue workers were not encouraged to wear them, and they worked long hours without medical supervision. The heroic frenzy of the original rescue effort was extended to the clean-up without regard to workers’ safety. Front-page headlines that exposed the dangers were disputed by the mayor, though they later proved to be accurate. A follow-up study of ground-zero workers released in 2006 estimated that seven out of ten suffered from “severe respiratory problems that persisted far longer than expected,” and limited studies indicate higher-than-expected mortality among that population.
An important story with broad ramifications.