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Cyrus Dugger

Shutting the Doors on Our 9/11 Heroes

Today’s NY Times reports that federal officials believe the money contributed by the federal government to help treat sick Ground Zero first responders and workers will run out by the summer or possibly the spring. Tort Deform has had a great deal written on the many inadequacies of the governmental and business responses to the environmental effects of the 9/11 attack and their connection to our civil justice system. In doing so, we have explained the plight of workers attempting to get compensation for their medical expenses, as well as for financial support them when their 9/11 related injuries keep them from working.

Indeed, the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, which produces Tort Deform, also highlighted NYC’s fervent denial of a link between WTC exposure and illnesses as one of our Worst of Public Policy in 2006.

The failure of the governmental repsponse has been almost across the board. Aside from the inadequacy of treatment and compensation options, government officials have also failed in organizing the cleanup effort. In addition, according the EPA’s own Inspector General, the former EPA chief even went so far as to mislead the public about the dangers of returning to and working at the site. Even the current funds for treatment disbursed by the federal government that are about to expire had to be fought for tooth and nail with the Bush administration. Pointedly, no money for treatment from the federal government was even received until after the 5 year anniversary of the attacks.

What does this all mean? Is it just the usual failing of government (and the private sector) to respond to a new unprecedented challenge?

Is this incompetence just that, or is there something more intentional and more alarming at work here?

Given the high profile nature of the 9/11 attacks, an unprecedented disaster in our nation’s history, and the fact that I am hard pressed to see what else the government could have gotten away with politically that would have made its response even worse, I have to assume that it is the latter.

If you agree, let me set the framework I have discussed here on Tort Deform for you to understand these failings. I call it the "safety is too expensive business model."

In short,

1) Government officials and/or corporations make a decision that they know or should know will endanger public health, but decide to proceed because they will either make or save money.
2) Public health is harmed.
3) The parties responsible for the decision deny any link between their actions and the resulting injuries.
4) If unable to deny a connection between their actions and the injury they then launch a public relations campaign (often in coordination with those with similar interests) decrying the high costs of the resulting litigation, and arguing that it threatens their own business’ or the entire industry’s solvency.

This approach of course forgets the fact that the expenses they decry are the result of their own previous willingness to endanger public safety (for their own financial reasons) in the first place.

The great irony of this safety is too expensive approach is that in the long term companies that adopt this model will often end up paying more, or at the very least costing society as a whole more.

This model overlays almost perfectly with the sequence of events that have resulted from the government's response to the environmental hazards of Ground Zero. (See 9/11 & The Safety Is Too Expensive Business Model)

A relevant analogy is the idea of installing seatbelts in a car. Of course, it costs more to make a car with a seatbelt in it in the short term. Safety also has its costs. However, in the long-term cars with seatbelts installed will reduce catastrophic injuries to America’s drivers and the victims of auto accidents.

The cost of supplying first responders and workers at Ground Zero with the proper respiratory equipment and the training to use it, of implementing a comprehensive and effective indoor building contamination cleanup program to protect residents and workers in Lower Manhattan, and of simply telling the honest truth about the environmental health hazards the EPA knew were at Ground Zero but played down in public statements simply cannot be more than the estimated annual cost of $256.6 million even federal officials now estimate it will cost to continue monitoring and treating first responders and workers. This estimate does not even include the cost of treatment for residents and non-cleanup workers who travel to work in Lower Manhattan (Mayor Bloomberg has only allocated a paltry $16 million over the next five years geared towards sick residents and non-cleanup workers).

However, most alarmingly, this figure does not even include treatment for the variety of even longer term health problems such as cancer, that are almost inevitably going to affect many of these victims.

Some critics have come out against many of these suits. One of the most prominent is James Copland, Director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy (Simply Wrong: Ground Zero Goofiness, NY Post Oct. 20, 2006). As often happens when powerful entities are sued, they (or their friends) complain about it. Where you come out on the issue of plaintiffs’ rights vs. corporation or government rights in this debate is as much a factor of your larger ideological viewpoint than anything else.

However, if you are against the increasing number of lawsuits about the issue, you have to give people an alternative to litigation other than simply waiting around to die without treatment. From my point of view, where supporters of the tort "reform" movement like Copland lose any semblance of reason is when they not only rail against lawsuits and those who decide to bring them, but then do not rail equally as hard to ensure that the injured have some other alternative.

If you don't like lawsuits that's fine. However, the real question isn't lawsuits or no lawsuits, it is lawsuits as compared to what? The answer simply can't be...... nothing.

While in this particular case the alternative of focusing on the safety of first responders and workers at Ground Zero is no longer an option as they are already exposed, the next best alternative is guaranteed comprehensive medical and lost wage support for these heroes (or their surviving families), along with other exposed residents, for the rest of their naturals lives.., however short they may be.

Why is it now so hard to do the right thing for our nation’s sick heroes?

Indeed, why was it so hard to protect their safety in the first place?

If we fail in supporting these heroes, would be heroes in our next disaster might have second thoughts about rising up in support of our nation in a time of need.

I certainly would.

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Posted at 1:46 PM, Dec 19, 2006 in
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