Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered the following remarks at “Progress Since 9/11: Protecting Public Health and Safety of the Responders and Residents,” an oversight hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations into federally funded programs that register, screen, monitor and treat individuals who were in the vicinity of the World Trade Center (WTC) following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
I want to acknowledge and thank Congressman Shays, Congresswoman Maloney, Congressman Fossella, Congressman Nadler and Congressman Weiner. They have been part of our bipartisan New York regional team to bring this issue to public attention and to work until we obtained support for those who are suffering for the consequences of their exposure to the toxic stew at the World Trade Center site and at Fresh Kills. I also want to thank Lillian Roberts, the Executive Director Of DC 37 for welcoming us to your home and all the labor leaders who are here who have been absolutely instrumental in pursuing the struggle to get attention to the needs of so many thousands of responders, workers, volunteers and residents. And all of the people who have been directly affected – those who did respond, those who worked, those who lived and those who volunteered – thank you for being here and being part of this important hearing. I also want to recognize and thank some of the people with whom I have worked on this for now nearly five years – I see Dr. Kerry Kelly and Dr. David Prezant in the audience – they were among the very first to sound the alarm on behalf of the fire department, the fire fighters and fire officers. I will never forget Dr. Kelly’s extraordinarily vivid testimony before the committee in the senate on which I sat, within weeks of 9/11, about what the physical and mental challenges and stresses confronting the firefighters would be going forward because of their experiences. I also want to thank Dr. Robin Herbert and Dr. Steven Levin who among the very first to take up this cause, working out of Mount Sinai to try to help create a system to conduct the monitoring and screening that would give us the evidence that we needed to support what we could see, feel, smell, and taste ourselves; that what happened, with the collapse of the buildings, with the implosion and sending into the atmosphere, the pulverized concrete, the miniscule glass shards, the asbestos particles and so much else, was going to impact, over many years, the health and well being of thousands and thousands of men and women.
We’re about to have the fifth anniversary of this horrible event, and we will rightly recognize and honor the sacrifice and commitment of our first responders, who conducted the greatest rescue mission in the history of the world. It is not in any way an overstatement to suggest that probably 35,000 people’s lives were saved because we had brave men and women who went in to danger on behalf of others. It is also going to be a time for us to take stock in our country as to what lessons we have learned, what work we are doing to ensure our safety going forward, and whether we are honoring our commitment to those who were affected, directly and indirectly, by the events of 9/11.
The work that commenced from the very moment the first plane hit was hazardous and difficult, and for as long as nine months, you had first responders, trade and construction workers and others who were working amidst the dust and the fog and the smog; a toxic mix of debris, smoke and chemicals. From the very first visit that I made, within 24 hours of the attack, I met people who were emerging from that dark curtain of hell, covered with the results of the collapse of the building. Standing there with other public officials, I could feel and smell what they were working in. It was clear to us that these were not healthy working conditions and that the air was not safe to breathe. Unfortunately, different assurances were provided, and there wasn’t a concerted effort to try to convince obviously committed workers on that pile to wear whatever respiratory protection devices were available. Starting in October of 2001, I began with the support of people like those whom I’ve mentioned, along with Dr. Phil Landrigan, one of the nation’s experts on the environmental impact of various working conditions and exposures on people’s health, to advocate for a program to monitor and screen those who had been exposed, and to make sure that the fire department had the resources it needed to conduct its own monitoring and screening, which was fully appropriate because they had the information available from before 9/11 that they could compare to post-9/11 health conditions.
I was very grateful that we were able to secure $12 million dollars in December of 2001 to establish the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program at Mount Sinai. When it was obvious that that money was woefully inadequate, we all worked together to get an additional $90 million dollars to expand the number of workers and volunteers who were eligible. This week, the report was released, and it confirmed our worst fears, and it confirmed an earlier report of the fire department’s study that also confirmed our worst fears – thousands, I would say tens of thousands of first responders, workers, volunteers and residents had experienced mental and medical health problems. You know the litany all too well; asthma, bronchitis, persistent sinusitis, laryngitis, and for these individuals, their illnesses are a constant reminder of that terrible day and of the days and weeks and months later. But so many had much more serious illnesses develop, and we are only beginning to understand the extent of those.
You will hear from some witnesses on the first panel who tell their stories or the stories of their loved ones. And the prayers and love and compassion that were offered in the wake of 9/11 were a wonderful tribute to our and our resilience, but it is not enough. It is not enough to say we stand with our police officers, or our fire fighters, or our iron workers, or our laborers or anyone else. Words at this point, nearly five years later, are really inadequate. That is why we must stand up for and obtain the support and the resources required to treat those who are suffering.
I was proud to work with DC 37 and others who as a coalition, tried to get the resources we thought we needed. We secured money; more than $100 million for medical screening and health monitoring, and then there was a dispute over the money, the $125 million altogether. We made an allocation, $50 million for workers comp claims related to the 9/11 attacks and $75 million for long-term medical and mental health needs.
Just yesterday, the group before you, along with some other of our colleagues met with Secretary Leavitt. They made a promise to us that the $75 million, which has been sitting in the federal treasury that has been designated to get out to help people, will finally be delivered. And we are going to hold him to that promise. We’ve heard these promises before and if promises counted for anything, everybody would be taken care of by now because we’ve have more than our fill of them, and we’ve got make sure that this time the money is delivered. I want to thank Dr. John Howard, who was put in the position of helping to move this along at the federal level, given no staff, no budget and he, despite of considerable obstacles has been a real support to those of us waging this struggle.
So we hope out of this hearing will come a greater awareness even than we have now, a greater commitment than we have had until now, and an absolute rock solid decision that we are going to get the help we need from all levels of government, for everyone who requires it. There is nothing we can do to turn the clock back. There is nothing we can say to comfort those who’ve lost loved ones. And there is very little we can say to help the young men and women who, on September 10th, five years ago, were running marathons and lifting weights and just feeling full of vigor and vitality, who today can hardly breathe. One thing I know for certain is that we cannot rest until we put into place a system to take care of every single person who was affected by 9/11. I thank my colleagues, and I particularly thank the witnesses and all of those who have worked so hard to make the progress on this important issue – for what we’ve done up until now, but lets keep going. We have a long way to go, we’ve miles to go, and promises to keep.
Thank you very much.