A review of Dust to Dust: the health effects of 9/11
A film by Heidi Dehncke-Fisher
What makes this
documentary, Dust to Dust:
the health effects of 9/11, so special is not just the chilling
statistics it displays onscreen about the poisonous brew of materials that fell
on Ground Zero and the surrounding neighborhoods; what makes this piece so affecting
is the heart-rending testimony of the warm-bodied victims of 9/11�s fall-out,
now living through a second round of slaughter, sadly their own.
These victims are
struggling to stay alive and sane, combating cancers, pulmonary diseases, every
conceivable kind of breathing disorder, and the psychic shock of being misled,
flat-out lied to by the US and New York City governments as to the risk they
were taking continuing to work, returning home or going to school in the area;
this whether on the piles, in the surrounding neighborhoods, office buildings
or even small businesses, directly and months after the apocalypse occurred.
To make matters
worse, the organizations designated to help these people, FEMA, the EPA,
Workmen�s Compensation, private insurance companies, municipal health
providers, Social Security, Medicare, et. al, present these victims with a
daily barrage of obstacles, largely red tape in paying (or avoiding to pay) for
medical bills, including medications, surgeries, organ transplants, physical or
psychological therapies, plus well-deserved financial benefits to help victims
meet living expenses and literally keep a roof over their heads.
The federal, city and
corporate blockage by the very people who should be facilitating assistance to
these victims compound the inhumanity. The guilty parties range from
functionaries in the various federal and city agencies and insurance companies
to those who stand at the very helm of this nation. It�s no wonder one female
EPA worker says, staring in the face of this conspiracy of red tape and
feet-shuffling, �We are the dust of 9/11.�
What hit the victims?
Dust to Dust boldly supers on the screen some of the 2,500 contaminants that erupted
from the explosions of the World Trade Center towers, Tower Seven and the two,
fuel-laden jetliners, turning into a toxic gray dust that hung in the air as
well as settled in people�s lungs and on area streets, vehicles, buildings,
residences, both outside and inside the city for months . . .
400 tons of asbestos, which once inhaled in any quantity cannot be
expelled by the lungs
liters of jet fuel containing benzene, a carcinogen that suppresses the
immune system and causes leukemia
from over 500,000 fluorescent lights that is toxic to the nervous system,
and damaging especially to the kidneys
pounds of lead and cadmium from personal computers, toxic to the
respiratory track, especially damaging to kidneys
aromatic hydrocarbons that cause lung, laryngeal and throat cancers
gallons of transformer oil with PCBs, causing serious skin rashes and
Silica from 420,000 tons of concrete, sheetrock and glass (tiny
particulates that lodge in heart, causing ischemic heart disease)
- . . . and so on and on and on . . .
Meet life�s cast
During the film we
meet John Graham, an EMT, and carpenter, a strong, soft-spoken man battling
with a handful of life-threatening conditions; similarly there is silver-haired
Richard Mulhern, a fiber optic technician; Christ Baumann, an NYPD detective;
Bonnie Giebfried, EMT; Timothy Duffy, a New York firefighter; NYPD Detective
Zagroda who survives his lost son; Patrick Lynch of the New York Patrolmen�s
Benevolent Association, and others equally affecting.
describes an incident in which his son, a police officer as well, already
suffering from a severe cough, stopped a lieutenant who was carrying five
respirators. He asked for one. And the lieutenant told him, �Sorry, can�t do,
these are for the brass.� The young Zagroda died one morning on the floor of a
bedroom in his home from black lung disease as his child slept on the bed
above, and his father discovered him. This is one of the most powerful moments
of Dust to Dust, seeing this hulk of
a man turn speechless with tears.
We also meet
deer-in-the-headlights Michael Brown, former director of FEMA; a truth-telling
Hugh Kaufman, engineer/investigator and EPA critic. And we meet the
unbelievable Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA administrator who consistently
told New York and the world there was �No reason for the general public to be
concerned.� Of course, we see George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell,
without facemasks, to make sure no one asks for one or uses even the meager
paper masks that were available.
We meet Dr. Stephen
Levin, head of the Mount Sinai Center for Occupational and Environmental
Medicine. Levin tells how he and his colleagues could see early on that these
people were being exposed to cancer-causing materials that would end in disaster.
This as Whitman kept reassuring everyone that we were �Not getting elevated
levels causing concern.�
Nikki Tinsley, the
former inspector general of the EPA, complained that there was no adequate
access to get in to evaluate, including no electricity, equipment or analysts.
By 9/13 the inadequate ambient air samples led the EPA to claim the air was
�Below levels of concern." Yet, many contaminants were simply not tested
As Robert Martin,
former ombudsman of the EPA, says, �You can�t find what you don�t look for.
This is true. The agency could have done a much better job of looking.� This as
Christy Whitman was repeating, �From a real health problem, we don�t have to
worry.� Of course, we can�t lay it all
on her because initial and ongoing statements were not based on science, but
rather on White House policy.
Ironically, the man
who was appointed by George W. Bush as head of The White House Environmental
Council, James Connaughton, formerly represented large corporations like ARCO
in disputes about cleaning up toxic waste sites. Adding insult to injury, he
had formerly worked against the EPA.
So, as usual, the
crime starts at the top. And as Cate Jenkins, a science PhD for the EPA, and
Nikki Tinsley, point out, the press releases that were written by the EPA were
then rewritten by the White House. One 9/11 press release that began EPA Initiating Response Activities: Testing
Terrorized Sites for Environmental Hazards changed to EPA Initiating Response Activities: Reassures Public about Environmental
Hazards. That�s quite a difference.
And on 9/14, this
following started out reading �samples . . . showed levels of asbestos ranging
from 2.1% to 3.3% . . ." (The EPA concedes a 1 percent level as a
definition for asbestos-contaminating material.) Thus the top line was changed
to �samples contained small percentages of asbestos . . . slightly above the 1
percent trigger for defining asbestos material.� The difference between the
numbers, from 1 percent to 2.1 percent to 3.3 percent is major enough to seriously
hurt or kill you, given repeated exposure. So any number cribbing is criminal.
Of course, Rudy
Giuliani is seen with a somber faced, former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik
standing behind him. Rudy tells us straight-faced that �The air quality is safe
and acceptable . . . That�s just the reality.� And we cut to a healthy looking
black New Yorker who says, �If the mayor says it�s okay, I believe him. It�s
okay.� And there it is in a nutshell. Which led one doctor to say, �Economic
and political motivations rather than a real concern for public health� were at
The underlying agenda
Perhaps the major
agenda, as the filmmakers suggest, was to get Wall Street up and running in a
matter of days, no matter what the cost to everyone else. In fact, in one
interview of a young woman Wall Streeter questioned as she walks briskly amidst
the rubble to work, she insists she�s okay; she�s happy to be back to work;
it�s no problem. It�s that same innocence, that same willingness to jump into
this polluted torrent of life. An older woman who is questioned does not
display that enthusiasm. She is worried about even being there. But these are
just the little people caught in the jaws of some larger beast.
And thus, in addition
to the 343 firefighters and paramedics, and the 78 police offers who died that
day among the nearly 3,000 who perished, add to that the quietly disappearing
numbers among the thousands of �survivors.� I also reported on them in Online Journal in Ground
Zero illnesses come back to haunt Giuliani, and No money
to treat 9/11 workers, $3 billion a week to fight Iraq?.
The ultimate irony is
that the rush to work these men and women on the piles relentlessly aggravated
in large part their nascent illnesses. The compulsive push of Giuliani to wipe
out this horrific crime scene in eight months when we had 30 months to do the
job is again criminal. In sharp contrast, first responders in Washington, D.C.,
had to wear respirators to go to work at the Pentagon disaster site,
absolutely, no questions asked.
Thus, at the end of Dust to Dust, we are left with this
second tragedy. On a personal note, I recognized in the film an old friend of
my wife and myself, Lynda Caspe, an artist, who had a loft near Ground Zero at
the time. In the documentary she tells us, she felt her loft might be
contaminated with asbestos. When, in fact, she called the EPA, the examiner
found a deadly 2.6 percent level of asbestos. His next question to her was,
�You sure didn�t plant this here?� Shocked, she answered, �What? Where would I
even find this?�
connection to people lost and hurt, I might add, is a component of the undying
pain and anger we in this city feel. September 11 happened in our backyard,
among the buildings, the kids at Stuyvesant High School, the men and women
working their hearts out. So it�s up close and personal to us, no matter how much
we get on with life.
This is why I suggest
you savor this documentary, every word of these gentle victims; every word of
the innocent and the guilty. They are all there for your scrutiny, and many
still in power. And, whether you believe 9/11 was an Inside Job or not, Dust to Dust will open your eyes to the
punishable criminality of this second round of slaughter. It will make your ire
rise and demand justice one more time, this time for the lingering hurt.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York.
Reach him at email@example.com.