February 15, 2007
By Steven Milloy
THE highly publicized recent death of re tired New York City police officer and Ground Zero worker Cesar A. Borja has all but cemented yet another junk-science-fueled myth in the pantheon of health scares.
The media rashly attributed Borja's death from pulmonary fibrosis to his supposed work at Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of the Twin Towers collapse. Exploiting the political opportunity, Sen. Hillary Clinton took Borja's son to the Jan. 23 State of the Union Address. The son then met with President Bush, who was allegedly inspired to add $25 million to the federal budget for health care for 9/11 rescue workers.
But this story line was way ahead of the facts.
Contrary to early reports, Borja wasn't a 9/11 responder. He didn't begin working at Ground Zero until late-December 2001 - long after the most dangerous air from the site had dissipated and use of respiratory equipment by exposed workers became routine. Borja only worked on site for a total of 17 days. As it turns out, Borja was also a pack-a-day smoker until the mid-'90s - smoking being a significant risk factor for pulmonary fibrosis.
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Though Borja's illness most likely had nothing to do with his work at Ground Zero, it did serve the purposes of an unfortunate outgrowth of the 9/11 attacks, the 9/11 health-scare industry. Since 9/11, the media, trial lawyers and certain researchers have been trying to whip up concerns for rescue workers and Lower Manhattan residents allegedly harmed by dust and fumes from the World Trade Center collapse.
While there is no scientific or medical evidence to back up concerns for any particular or unique health problems caused by 9/11, the 9/11 industry resorts to deception and sleight-of-hand to play up concerns. Borja's death was only the latest opportunity to do so.
Last summer, the 9/11 industry convinced Newsweek to publish a story entitled, "Not Getting Better: A new study finds serious lung problems among thousands of 9/11 responders."
But that August 2006 headline was based on medical data from 2002. The study reported that in the year following the World Trade Center collapse, rescue workers experienced, on average, a 9 percent decrease in lung function.
While there's no quibble with the study results as far as they go - that is, rescue worker health status in 2002 - they certainly can't be used to justify a headline implying that 9/11 responders still have reduced lung function in 2006.
There are, in fact, no scientific or medical data to back up the proposition that 9/11 responders as a population have suffered any special health effects over the long term.
But facts and science matter little in the face of the larger health-scare industry, which seeks to medicalize life experiences into various "syndromes" and epidemics, usually associated with politically incorrect events and entities such as the military, chemicals, fast food and industry.
New York City's trans-fat ban, Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, obesity, childhood cancer caused by power lines, breast cancer on Long Island caused by pesticides, World Trade Center syndrome - you name the health scare - have all been promoted with utter disregard for science and facts by the health-scare mob, aided in large part by a complicit or gullible media.
We pay a high price for these scares - one that can go beyond strained nerves and the tens of billions of taxpayer and consumer dollars wasted annually.
Steven Milloy publishesJunkScience.comandCSRWatch.com. He is a junk science expert, and advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
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