September 6, 2006
The Honorable Howard P. "Buck" McKeon
Committee on Education and the Workforce
2181 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Chairman McKeon:
Yesterday, researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York released the most comprehensive information to date regarding the serious long-term health problems experienced by many of the thousands of rescue and recovery workers who toiled at the World Trade Center site in the days, weeks, and months following the attacks of September 11, 2001. In light of this new and profoundly troubling research, we once again urge you to exercise your oversight authority by calling hearings into this matter without delay.
Among Ground Zero workers examined by Mount Sinai health professionals, 70 percent have developed new or worsened lung diseases and respiratory problems. As you know, these men and women worked in shifts for eight months starting on September 11. With the five-year anniversary of September 11 fast approaching, it is long past time that the congressional committee with jurisdiction over the safety of America's workers finally do its job and conduct rigorous oversight.
We are compelled to note that while the Mount Sinai team released its findings today, we raised our deep concerns about this issue three years ago. On September 4, 2003, we sent a letter to then Chairman Boehner requesting committee hearings on the health and safety of Ground Zero workers. Regrettably, Chairman Boehner formally declined our request a month and a half later. We sent you a letter on July 5, 2006 requesting oversight hearings on OSHA's response to safety and health protections for workers in the aftermath of September 11 and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. To date, we have not received a reply to this request. This delay in congressional action is irresponsible and unjustified.
The Mount Sinai study findings clearly suggest that many thousands of Ground Zero workers, including law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMTs, construction workers, utility workers and public sector workers, lacked adequate protection from massive concentrations of dangerous toxins at the site. Given that 70 percent of the 10,000 Ground Zero workers they examined between 2002 and 2004 have rates of pulmonary illnesses twice as high as those found in the general population, immediate congressional oversight is not only warranted but is long overdue.
It is shameful that this committee has neglected its oversight responsibility regarding the health and safety of rescue and recovery workers after September 11 and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. By failing to give this issue the attention it deserves, Congress is abdicating its responsibility to learn what can be done to reduce the risks faced by rescue and recovery workers at other disaster sites in the future.
The brave men and women who responded in the aftermath of September 11 - thousands of whom are now ill as a result of their courageous work at Ground Zero - and all rescue and recovery workers who put their lives on the line in times of national crisis deserve the full attention of this Congress. Again, we urge you to avoid further delay and schedule hearings on this matter immediately. On behalf of these workers and their families, thank you for your attention to our request.
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS