Much like the controversy over Gulf War Syndrome, the argument that those who rushed to ground zero after the collapse of the Twin Towers have been poisoned by air loaded with toxins will never be settled. As Jeff Stier of the American Council on Science and Health notes in the New York Post, the plaintiffs, who have just had a settlement agreement tossed out of court because it wasn’t large enough, claim that 387 different diseases or conditions result from the expoure, including “multiple forms of cancer, skin ailments, hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, asbestosis and asthma.”
The problem is that there is no way that science can even begin to prove this level of causality. Asthma? Dust, says Stier, can aggravate asthma, but not cause it in adults. More to the point, the studies being used to advance some of the claims have been designed to do so:
“…a recent study from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine claimed that 9/11 police officers might be at higher risk of heart disease. It was a classic case of data-dredging by those trying to find a disease on behalf of plaintiffs.
The study relied on subjects who were self-selected — that is, the people who came in were the very class of people who may be suing. The researchers then compared the results from these “volunteers” to the general population — without, the lead researcher herself admitted, allowing for the possibility that NYPD cops may already have a higher risk of heart disease. Even then, they found no increase in illness — just an elevated rate in a single measure (of many that they examined) that’s predictive of future disease.”
This is the sort of criticism that plaintiffs, naturally, don’t want to hear; it may seem axiomatic to those responders who are ill that ground zero is responsible; it may even seem cruel and unfeeling to say that they might be just as ill today if one could look across the Manhattan skyline and still see the twin towers; but rigorous epidemiological evidence is what guarantees fact from fancy and fancy from fraud.