O P E N I N G S T A T E M E N T
Senator George Voinovich
Field Hearing on the Air Quality and Health Impacts
of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center
Monday February 11, 2002
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding today=s hearing on the air quality and health impacts of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. I would also like to especially thank Senator Clinton for bringing this important issue to my attention and the attention of this Subcommittee and the U.S. Senate.
As I said on September 11th, our first responsibility is to secure the support the victims and their families will need in the days and the months ahead and pray that God will bless and comfort them. Today part of that support is to ensure that those who work, live and attend school in the area are safe and are not exposed to situations which put their health at risk.
In addition, we have a very important responsibility to the emergency responders and the thousands of workers and volunteers who have dealt with the ongoing tragedy at ground zero everyday since September 11th. Our nation owes these brave men and women our gratitude and our thanks. Many of the workers left their families for days and weeks at a time, working long difficult hours, at emotionally difficult tasks most Americans can not image. When I toured ground zero shortly after the attack I was struck with the dedication and hard work of all of the volunteers and the fact that the television coverage did not do justice to the devastation that I saw.
The bravery, professionalism, and sacrifice of the men and women of the New York Fire and Police Departments and other emergency workers is an inspiration to us all. These men and women are true heros in every sense of the word. While all of New York and America should be proud of the quick response of the New York rescue workers, we all should be equally proud of the volunteers from across the country who responded to the call for help. I am particularly proud of the seventy-four members of Ohio Task Force One who were mobilized on September 11th and were among the first out-of-state FEMA teams to respond to the site, where they worked until September 20th.
I am also proud of the Federal response to the tragedy by FEMA and the other federal Agencies. I think it is important as we evaluate the Federal response, in order to make improvements in the system, that we do not lose sight of the fact that the terrorism attack on September 11th was unprecedented in size, scale, and devastation. Nevertheless, some mistakes were inevitable and we must learn from them.
I am particularly concerned about the health problems of the emergency responders and what they were exposed to during their work at ground zero. Equally disturbing is the breakdown by the Federal government in monitoring the health problems and treatments of the out-of-state FEMA volunteers following their work at ground zero.
After Ohio Task Force One returned home, many of them experienced illnesses apparently caused work at ground zero. Thirty-seven of the seventy-four emergency responders became ill, three people were hospitalized with viral pneumonia, eight people experienced extreme weight loss, two people have been diagnosed with adult onset asthma, one with acute bronchitis and the rest with various respiratory disorders and rashes. This data was supplied to me by Robert Hessinger, the Logistics Chief for Ohio Task Force One.
I was concerned, and I remain concerned, that no Federal agency is monitoring these workers for health problems. The workers themselves are concerned because they do not know what they may have been exposed to during their work in New York. The only information they have received since returning to Ohio is from what they have read in the newspapers about potential exposure to asbestos. This is not acceptable. If these people are going to leave their families and jobs and risk their lives and health, then the Federal government owes them the duty to inform them of their health risks and to ensure that they receive the best medical care, while at the same time safeguarding their individual privacy.
The entire FEMA response effort depends upon the willingness of volunteers pitching in from around the country. If we do not treat these volunteers with the respect they are due, then we will have a difficult time convincing people to volunteer for disasters in the future. Mr. Chairman, I look forward to working with you and Senator Clinton and others members of the Subcommittee to ensure that all of the emergency responders and the residents of New York City get the most reliable health information and answers to their questions and concerns.