9/11�s second round of slaughter
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

Jan 16, 2008, 00:20

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 . . .

  • Over 400 tons of asbestos, which once inhaled in any quantity cannot be expelled by the lungs
  • 90,000 liters of jet fuel containing benzene, a carcinogen that suppresses the immune system and causes leukemia
  • Mercury from over 500,000 fluorescent lights that is toxic to the nervous system, and damaging especially to the kidneys
  • 200,000 pounds of lead and cadmium from personal computers, toxic to the respiratory track, especially damaging to kidneys
  • Polycystic aromatic hydrocarbons that cause lung, laryngeal and throat cancers
  • 130,000 gallons of transformer oil with PCBs, causing serious skin rashes and liver damage
  • Crystalline 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.

Detective Zagroda 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 for.

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 play.

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?�

This personal 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

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