DoD Not Tracking 9/11 Responder, Survivor Health
More than 10 years after terrorists crashed a fully fueled airliner into the Pentagon, causing a fireball of atomized metal, concrete, plastic, blood and bone, the Defense Department has not compiled data on the long-term health of first responders or the building's workers.
Responding to queries from Military.com, DoD officials said they are not aware of any research or studies by the Pentagon, the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center or the Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical Command into the health of those who were at the Pentagon in the hours and days following the Sept. 11 attack.
Art Rosati, a Pentagon police officer on 9/11 who now says he has prostate cancer and as-yet-undiagnosed nodules on his liver, left lung and left leg, says he's not surprised.
"In my opinion, that shows neglect or malfeasance on their part. That means they failed to perform their duties," says Rosati, who served nearly 22 years in the Army Reserve as an MP -- with active service in Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti -- before joining the Pentagon police force in 1999. He entered medical retirement for severe post-traumatic stress in May.
A Defense Department spokeswoman said no study was ordered because it did not appear necessary.
Based on the limited smoke and airborne exposure, officials determined there was nothing to scientifically or medically justify the need for such a study, said spokeswoman Cynthia Smith.
She said Johns Hopkins Medical Center expressed an interest in doing a study, but dropped the plan because the Pentagon "couldn't develop a comprehensive roster of all the people who worked at the Pentagon" that day, she said.
The DoD still believes there are no long-term health risks to people at the Pentagon on 9/11, Smith said.
To date, the most ambitious look at links between cancers and the contaminants kicked up by the 9/11 attacks was unveiled by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, an agency of the Centers of Disease Control.
That study tied the toxic environment of the World Trade Center to 50 cancers. Though the study included no data on Defense Department personnel, those at the Pentagon on 9/11 -- as well as responders to the Pennsylvania field where a fourth hijacked plane went down -- will now be eligible for compensation and medical treatments through a $4.3 billion fund established by Congress last year.
Until NIOSH published its cancer list last week, the federal government recognized only respiratory illnesses as being related to the breathing in the air of the 9/11 sites. That conclusion had long been a sore point among many New Yorkers, especially first responders.
For many, it was easy to dismiss the federal conclusions. Within a week of the 9/11 attacks Christie Whitman, head of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2001, announced that tests showed the air in the area of Ground Zero was at safe levels. Later reports described a plume that lingered for weeks composed of dioxins created by burned computers and electrical equipment, mercury, asbestos and other substances. "Vast quantities of dust, glass and pulverized cement were blown throughout the surrounding neighborhood," the Natural Resources Defense Council reported.
A federal judge in New York later concluded that Whitman misled the public about the air quality.
And suspicion like that expressed by Rosati also has been around a long while: For many years during and after the Vietnam War, the Pentagon rejected post-traumatic stress disorder and evidence that the dioxins it sprayed over Vietnam to defoliate jungle areas were making veterans sick.
No one today denies that PTSD is real or that Agent Orange claimed American lives long after the troops came home. The Department of Veterans Affairs only a few years ago increased the number of "presumptive" illnesses related to Agent Orange, a move that brought a whole new wave of aging, sick vets into the VA healthcare system.
The Fire Department of New York was a major force in getting NIOSH to accept that cancers were linked to exposure at Ground Zero. For years, the firefighters claimed their members were seeing increased rates of cancer as a result of the toxic air and debris.
FDNY produced seven years of data from its health records to make its case. It submitted the information to the British medical journal The Lancet, which reviewed and published its findings. Those findings showed that New York firefighters who responded to the WTC attack had a 19 percent higher rate of cancer than firefighters who were not there.
"The majority of the data in the study that helped us was based on our extensive medical records of our firefighters both pre- and post-September 11th," FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer said in an email. "We had baseline info on their health before 9/11 to compare to how their health is now."
Rosati said he was happy New York's Fire Department was able to make the government act, but disappointed that NIOSH rejected the fire department's recommendation to include prostate cancer in the list of covered illnesses.
Some members of NIOSH's Scientific/Technical Advisory Committee, which drafted the final list, wanted to include it. They were persuaded by FDNY statistics showing it was turning up in firefighters in their 30s and 40s.
Prostate cancer is among the most common types of cancer among men, but it typically develops in men after 60. Rosati is 52.
"It's not just about myself -- anybody that was involved [on 9/11], from any police department or fire agency -- any rescue worker" is affected, Rosati said.