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Statement of Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) at the HELP Committee Hearing to Examine the Continuing Needs of Workers and Communities Affected by 9/11

As Prepared for Delivery

“I welcome everyone to this important hearing.  Nine years ago this September, two planes were flown into the World Trade Center, and the twin towers fell.  In a burst of flame and debris, nearly 3,000 people were killed.  And all of our lives were changed forever.  

“We will never forget the images burned into our memories of people running in terror, covered head to toe in grey ash.  We will never forget the brave heroes who were running in the opposite direction – the police and firefighters, doctors and emergency responders bravely rushing toward the cloud and the chaos.  And we will never forget the volunteers from all across America who spent weeks at the site, digging and hand-sorting through smoldering debris: frantically looking for survivors and, later, for remains to give closure to the thousands of families that lost loved-ones.  

“On 9/11, terrorists determined to kill thousands of innocent people showed us human nature at its very worst.  But the response to those attacks showed us not just the better angels of our nature, but truly astonishing examples of courage, selflessness, and self-sacrifice.  On 9/11, and in the days, weeks, and months that followed, many thousands of people came to Ground Zero to offer their assistance and expertise.  And those workers and the volunteers did not hesitate out of concern for their own health and safety.  

“Since those initial days, our nation has responded to the tragedy in a myriad of ways, both at home and abroad.  We are still learning the lessons of 9/11.  This committee is especially interested in learning about the long-term health effects of the World Trade Center attacks.

“As we all know, the enormous rubble pile at Ground Zero emitted a toxic brew of gases and fine particulate matter for months after the attack.  In the immediate aftermath, the Federal government did its best to protect those who came to serve.  In the years that followed, we set up programs to address health needs we couldn’t prevent.  I am proud that the appropriations subcommittee that I chair has worked closely with the New York delegation to meet those needs.  

“But our work in this area is not done.  We are learning that the health effects of the 9/11 disaster are far more extensive, and more wide-ranging than many people initially thought.

“A wide variety of health effects have been observed and attributed to World Trade Center exposure in responders and volunteers, local residents and community members.  These conditions include respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, as well as mental health effects.  Because the exposure was so unique, a new syndrome has been identified called World Trade Center cough, which involves a persistent cough accompanied by severe respiratory symptoms. Many people have experienced drastically reduced lung function. For example, one study of firefighters found that lung function in those exposed to the World Trade Center site decreased 12 times faster than normal in the years since 9/11. Some have lost so much lung function that they have required lung transplantation. We will hear from one such individual today.

“There have been many reported mental health effects, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  

“In addition to all these documented short-term health effects, we are also concerned about potential long-term health effects, including the possibility of higher rates of cancer.  

“It is critically important that we continue to study and address these health impacts, both for the sake of the workers and community members affected, and so that we can apply the lessons we’ve learned to other disasters – whether the Gulf Coast oil spill or some crisis yet to come.

“Today’s hearing is an important step in our continued response to the 9/11 crisis.  It is about keeping faith with those directly impacted by the 9/11 attacks, and meeting their needs.  

“I applaud Senator Gillibrand for her tireless leadership and advocacy in this area.  She has introduced one proposal – the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2009 – that is currently before this committee.  More generally, I commend her relentless efforts to address the needs of the heroes and victims of 9/11.  The entire committee looks forward to hearing from her, today, and to learning more about her bill.  

“I also look forward to getting an update about the progress of the various programs that currently serve the needs of those exposed to the World Trade Center site, and how we can best continue to meet those needs.

“I thank all of the witnesses for coming today, and look forward to learning from you.”