Cop death and Clinton draw more attention to 9/11 health concerns


By Josh Rogers

In some ways it was like many Church St. press conferences near an area better known as ground zero – there were politicians, first responders and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 attack. But it was the second day after Hillary Clinton announced her presidential candidacy, so many more reporters attended.

And the Monday event took on a tragic turn the next day, when one of the speakers, Ceasar Borja, 21, found out his father had died from what is believed to be a 9/11-related illness, hours before he sat in the House of Representatives chamber to hear President Bush’s State of the Union address as a guest of Sen. Clinton.

Borja’s father, Cesar Borja, 52, was a retired N.Y.P.D. officer who helped in the World Trade Center site rescue and recovery operation in 2001 and died from pulmonary fibrosis.

With the senior Borja’s health continuing to deteriorate Monday, the son, who has a similar first name, sounded angry as he spoke to reporters at the site.

“I’m lucky to be 21, to have known my father as long as I have,” Borja said as a circle of 21 television news cameras filmed him. “I hope that with proper medical attention, little girls and young boys like my brother won’t have to go through what my family’s going through.”

While in Washington, Borja told his mother in a phone conversation that “Dad always knew the man I could become and I love him for that…” according to the Daily News. “He passed away right when I’m down here fighting for him. This is the most I’ve ever done for Dad.”

Clinton, in a statement after the death, said: “We are reminded that thousands like Cesar Borja desperately need help and I hope that the president in his budget will provide the funding needed to provide the health care our 9/11 heroes need and deserve.”

She and most of the New York Congressional delegation are fighting for $1.9 billion to continue a federal health fund for rescue workers suffering from respiratory conditions attributed to the toxic fires that burned for months at the W.T.C. The money for the program is expected to run out in a few months. A Mount Sinai study concluded that 69 percent of the workers at the site have damaged health because of their work.

Clinton was joined at the press conference by three Congressional Democrats — Sen. Chuck Schumer, U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney — and one Republican, U.S. Rep. Vito Fosella. These members of the New York delegation, who all gave their State of the Union passes to people in order to highlight 9/11 environmental issues, are also supporting a bill that would provide Medicare coverage to any workers or residents who can demonstrate health problems related to 9/11.

“We have to provide treatment to all of the victims of 9/11 — thousands and thousands of first responders and residents,” Clinton said at the W.T.C.

Mariama James, a Southbridge Towers resident, said even though she has health insurance, the legislation would be a huge help because of her $40 insurance co-payments. All three of her children have allergies and sinus conditions she believes were caused by the toxic dust that landed in her apartment and on her terrace five years ago. She spends about $300 to $400 a month on medications for her children and said she sometimes has to choose which doctors or medicines are the most important.

James, like other speakers Monday, also criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s old and new plans to test and clean Lower Manhattan apartments. “It’s bogus,” she said. “[Testers came] two years after I had ripped up my own carpet when I was 8 1/2 months pregnant.”

Her youngest daughter Alijah, now 5, is on a nebulizer and at risk to develop asthma in addition to having similar allergies to her two older siblings. James said in addition to her children’s ailments, she has had cysts under her eye and problems with her voice, which she also connects to the dust in her apartment, but she often neglects her health for financial reasons.

She wants the E.P.A. to test her apartment for other chemicals beside asbestos and to open its new retesting program to places outside of Lower Manhattan, since the dust traveled to Brooklyn and Uptown.

Nadler, whose district includes the W.T.C. site, Brooklyn and the Upper West Side, said it’s as if the E.P.A. believes “there was a 30,000-foot high wall at the East River protecting Brooklyn and at Canal St. protecting other areas.”

When Nadler repeated his frequent accusation of the Bush administration “lying” about Downtown air quality, Clinton looked away and appeared uncomfortable, but when he spoke of the need to provide health care to those affected, she nodded in agreement. Clinton also nodded when another speaker said Congress should use its subpoena power to probe what was behind E.P.A. assurances in 2001.

Clinton’s eyes watered as she listened to two speakers, Borja and Joseph Zadroga, whose son James died last year of respitory failure, Monday. James Zadroga, 34, is one of two post-9/11 deaths in which the connection to the attack is not in dispute. There are many other deaths and illnesses in which doctors believe there is a 9/11 connection, but establishing proof to reach a medical certainty is difficult.

Difficult or not, Joseph Zadroga, who also went to Washington, said he took comfort in the support for change and said he believed his son “is looking down at us now smiling and hoping something will be done.”

If the national media came Downtown hoping for Clinton to talk about her campaign, they were disappointed. She took a few questions on 9/11 health concerns and told reporters those were the only ones she would answer.