No Justification for Alarming Rescue Workers

Today’s New York Post reports that a medical center funded by the federal government to research potential health effects of the World Trade Center debris to rescue workers has exaggerated the risks and engaged in scientifically questionable practices. The Post story commends The New York Times for breaking this story last week in a front page story.

Can’t say I am surprised. The center involved is a division of Mount Sinai Medical Center, headed by activist Dr. Philip J. Landrigan.

Landrigan often works in tandem with environmentalists, who use Mount Sinai research to make all sorts of unfounded claims about the risks of chemicals. This case focuses on research conducted by Mount Sinai’s Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine. In the past, only a few individuals — such as Michael Fumento — challenged their research. Finally, The New York Times has taken a critical look.

According to the Times, “The clinic’s doctors presented their findings in what other experts say were scientifically questionable ways.” This has needlessly contributed to stress among rescue workers, who have wrongly been led to believe that a large number are suffering long-term ailments and that many could eventually come down with cancer.

Mount Sinai researchers offer some of the most telling justifications of their behavior. For example, Dr. Robin Herbert has suggested that “she was seeing the beginning of a ‘third wave’ of disease, referring to cancer…she named specific types of cancer — leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma,” despite the absence of any hard evidence. She defended these remarks noting: “We have to strike a balance between not exaggerating and not waiting to act until we have absolute proof.” Give me a break. Scientists are never supposed to exaggerate. They are supposed to present findings and probabilities, along with all caveats about their results.

Another researcher noted: “If our advocacy has brought in people and we’ve saved their lives because we’ve identified health problems, whether they’re World Trade Center-related or not, I’ll take that any day of the week…And if that’s our epitaph — that we talked loudly and we brought people in for health care — so be it.”

Apparently, they think the ends justify the means — even if that means intentionally misleading and scaring rescue workers. Keep that in mind the next time you see Mount Sinai quoted in another environmentalist report, press release, or congressional testimony.