Saturday, June 24, 2006

WTC Illnesses Vs. Bird Flu in the Press: A Study in Contrasts

Jenna Orkin

Environmental disasters are a bore. No explosions. Nobody bleeding to death before your eyes. Just a dubious-looking landscape, a bunch of data and some talking heads.

Until the bodies start falling. Then even the mainstream press sit up and take notice.

And that's where we are five years after the environmental disaster of 9/11 (whose vestiges linger, however, in contaminated buildings downtown.) To date, fifty-seven workers have died of illnesses related to their exposure to toxic pollutants at Ground Zero. Thousands more are sick as are some residents, office workers and students from the surrounding community. And so a few weeks ago the issue graduated from the Metro Section to page 1 of the New York Times.

It's been a one step forward, two steps back sort of battle. At one point the White House rescinded $125 million that had been allocated for health coverage. (It has since been restored.) And in spite of the glaring statistics, the premature illnesses and deaths, Ground Zero workers who have sought Worker's Compensation have routinely been told that their illnesses were not World Trade Center-related. The particles of glass, silica and other toxic substances found in their lungs were presumed innocent of WTC association until proven guilty by.... what? A stamp reading "Certified WTC Origin?" (Let's not get started on the quixotic quest, which was ultimately and ignominiously abandoned, for a WTC 'signature' or 'fingerprint.') Other workers, whose symptoms did not manifest themselves for several years, were told that the Statute of Limitations had run out.

So last Saturday the NYS AFL-CIO and NYC Central Labor Council along with DC 37 and other unions as well as Congresspersons Nadler, Maloney, Rangel and Fossella, the Sierra Club, NY Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, NY Environmental Law and Justice Project and 9/11 Environmental Action held a press conference demanding healthcare for all those affected. With the unions weighing in, this movement has now got legs like a centipede.

We always knew it would be this way. Those of us who warned from the beginning about returning downtown and who lobbied for representative testing and cleanup (routine EPA protocol prior to 9/11) knew it would be years before our dire prognostications would prove correct and that by then it would be too late for many victims.

But since the death of Police Officer James Zadroga at the age of 34, the first death officially linked to WTC exposure, the press have jumped on this issue, as have more politicians, with outrage and calls to arms. (Note: This is a simplified sketch of the last five years. Some press outlets have fought with us from the beginning. But, however tragic it is to say it, the way has been smoothed by the deaths of Ground Zero heroes.)

Why now, when prevention would have been so much more effective?

Because prevention isn't as sexy as death. Also there is the attitude of the mainstream press, one of whose members once explained: Until you have this sort of proof, to give air-time to views that deviate from the party line is 'irresponsible.' As in the old E.F. Hutton commercial, when the suits talk, people listen.

This is not the forum in which to point out the compelling evidence we in the alternative camp offered, starting in 2001, that all was not well in the state of Lower Manhattan. The point of this article is: The sort of conjecture that the above-cited reporter was disparaging is the lifeblood of the current bird flu hysteria.

According to a November, 2005 article by Michael Kane in From the Wilderness, 67 deaths had occurred as a result of bird flu in people, many of whose immune systems were compromised and who lived in countries with severely constrained health services. However the H5N1 virus which causes it had been 'isolated' only via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) which, according to its inventor, Kary Mullis, cannot properly be used to isolate a virus. The correct method would be purification which has yet to take place.

Kane attributes the terror-of-the-week focus on bird flu to the potential of Donald Rumsfeld & Co. to profit. They'll certainly make out like bandits if the country buys Homeland Security Secretary Michael Levitt's blanket assurance, “If it isn‘t the current H5N1 virus that leads to an influenza pandemic, at some point in our nation‘s future another virus will.”

How long will it be before flu symptoms are added to the list of signs the NYC Transit Authority warns us to be on the lookout for? (In case you haven't been on the NYC subway system recently, when the doors close at each station, we get a recorded announcement to report 'suspicious packages' to the police or a transit system employee.) And what would those symptoms include? Fatigue? At any given moment half the train is asleep anyway.

Here's another possible incentive for the emphasis on bird flu when WTC-related illness is, so far, approximately as lethal and was initially preventable: Where does bird flu come from? China. Like Sars. Like all that gross pollution the New York Times spread across its front page a few weeks ago. (See "Leave us Alone; China Pollutes Too" posted on this blog June 11.)

I had a professor once who said, "The reason the devil gets as far as he does in the world is that there's a little bit of truth to what he says."

He could have gone further: The devil doesn't need to lie at all. All he needs to do is tell half the story.

And with the environmental disaster of 9/11, that's literally what he did. Local and state hearings on the issue caved to the government agencies' stipulation that if they couldn't testify first, they wouldn't come at all. I never understood what would be so terrible about that. But everyone understood why the agencies demanded it. By lunchtime, most of the press had fled to file their stories. In the afternoon, experts for the opposing view as well as we, the unwashed masses, testified to a room empty of those in power but for the lone City Council- or State Assemblyman who had called for the hearing and who would nod sympathetically while taking calls on his cellphone. (Note: The devil in this image is not the State Assembly or City Council per se both of which host some admirable members; it is the system.)

But bird flu! Ahhh..... A terror concocted in the laboratory of some mad genius-scientist that combines the august history of the 1918 flu with tabloid-like horrors - courtesy, Alfred Hitchcock - of lethal foreign agents masquerading as innocent creatures and soaring above our helpless border controls.

Just as the people get the government they deserve (or at least they did back when elections were honest) they get the press they deserve. The nation's watchdogs have been goaded with sticks and gorged with carrots to become lapdogs - strike that - pussycats. But the truth will out, like a weed. Long live the internet. Long enough for the majority to catch on.

Note: Jenna Orkin represents neighborhoods beyond Lower Manhattan in a class action lawsuit against the EPA.


FreeAcre said...

I'm sorry to hear that so many are suffering who were in the 9/11 aftermath. I guess they're trying to lump them in with the agent orange veterans of the Gulf War and the depleted uranium exposed soldiers getting contaminated now. These are the "weapons of mass destruction" that I can only wish our government would be trying to protect us from.

I have been wondering why we haven't heard anything lately about Bird Flu. Thought they'd be all over it right about now because the birds are due on the west coast, aren't they? Guess the contracts for the big money involved have already been signed, so there's no need to ehnance the coverage any longer.

FTW admin said...

Freeacre, just when you think bird flu's become a distant memory, another creepy article surfaces. Here's one from this morning about human-to-human transmission:

Dan Dashnaw said...

The internet will only live as long as we decide that compromising it is unacceptable. Believe me if the republicrats had their way the pesky internet would be sanitized asap!. Protecting alternative media should be a vital concern for all FTW readers1

mrs p said...

Sounds like Homeland Security Secretary Michael Levitt is admitting that if we don't have H5N1 making a pandemic, his people will see to it that we have a virus that will. Here's a suggestion for those future viruses: In order to have a disease free life and an immune system running at peak, this book, Eat Right For Your Type by Dr. J. D'Adamo, (a noted naturopathic physician, researcher & lecturer.) wrote this book about the 4 blood types--(your DNA). It gives you a list of what foods are "poison" to your immune system and what foods are "highly beneficial" based on your blood type. Knowing your blood type is key. The Rh factor doesn't matter. I've tried eliminating foods that are bad for me & focusing on the good for 2 weeks and already I have tons more energy and I feel stronger. Just a suggestion. My brother in Australia told me about it. He also told me about M. Ruppert. He's batting a thousand so far!

mrs p said...

Re: Sanitizing the Internet, and our "Digital Democracy", there's a documentary called, "Orwell Rolls In His Grave" being shown on Link TV, Channel 375 on Direct TV or 9410 on Dish Network. A must see for anyone concerned about our digital democracy. For programming go to their website, I think it's

FreeAcre said...

I just watched that documentary, "Orwell rolls in his grave" last night and it was GREAT! Can also rent it from Netflix. I have just cancelled my Dish Network in protest over the corporate agenda and progaganda that the tv spews. Now, I am using the money saved to donate to assorted alternative news and peak oil websites.

Ignatius Riley said...

"But the truth will out, like a weed. Long live the internet. Long enough for the majority to catch on."

Unfortunately these days I am not certain of the power of the truth. Especially when it is pitted against corporate PR machines. Take for instance the Exxon Valdez spill where hudreds of workers inhaled vaporized crude, the result of using high-powered fire hoses to break up beached oil slicks. Those workers suffered countless horrific afflictions. The truth has been out there on this subject for quite some time. Coupled with the ecological environmental toll, the human health toll should have been enough to finish Exxon. Yet Exxon remains a major player in the Oligarchy.

I personally believe that it would be fruitful to approach the data from the reported illnesses as if looking specifically for maladies caused by inhaling the smoke from certain explosives. If it could be argued that a firefighter eventually succumbed to an illness brought on by inhalation of smoke from burning thermite, then multiple purposes could be served through this discovery.

Those engaged in the information war have to recognize that they are not fighting on a level battlefield. Which is to say, until we are ready to pack our message into 30-second advertisements and buy add space on major television stations and have those adds run right there between beer and detergent adds, until we reach that point, then the trouncing at the hands of the PR machine will continue.

Americans don't have the attention span for "Crossing The Rubicon," which btw was the best book I have read in a long time, or "9/11 Synthetic Terror," or "Hegemony or Survival." They'll give you thirty seconds if you can promise them bright lights and vivid images. Packaging is everything, baby. You package the truth in a report and nobody will read it. You put it on TV during Family Guy and something might indeed happen.

murph said...

In case anyone hasn't been watching this, it surely looks like the media corporations are going to get what they want, control over the last relatively free information souce, the internet. You can bet your bottom dollar that Murdock has a hand in this one too.

Ignatius Riley,

I'm not so sure that putting truth out on the mass media would work either. People simply don't want to hear it, it's too painful. We know hard core neocons that we talk with and we have given up. It's just the liberals trying to scare us, everything is just hunky dory.

When he hard facts start impacting lives of the upper income people, then you can bet we will see some changes of some kind. Until then, it's shut up and sit down and do as your told.

Jacob said...

I believe they are either about to or has already given up on Net Neutrality. From what I understand, this means websites will begin competing on bandwidth and thus drowning out those who can not or will not compete.

Perhaps this can spread some light: (only skimmed it though.)

video-dp said...

Finally, the crucial topic of Internet communication vulnerability has been broached by FTW - at least indirectly. The Internet is an irreplaceable tool for disseminating information. I wish the FTW staff would address the following question on their Web site: "How will citizens propagate truthful information when Big Brother shuts down (or moderates) the Internet?" Are there plans for something akin to "Super wi-fi" wireless networking, or some other alternative that could be used? We need to get the "Best and brightest" working on this NOW; communication is critical!
Thoughts appreciated,