Friday, March 31, 2006

Open Letter

Stuyvesant Alumni:
If you were at Stuyvesant during 9/11, please consider signing this letter! Although hard copies have already been sent out, we can keep adding signatures for future mailings. Leave your name and class year (and e-mail!) in a comment box or e-mail them to StuyHealth@gmail.com, and you will be added to the list. From now on I will no longer publish the comments that are simply signees, I will just add them to the petition and mailing list. The first round of mailings went to:
Rep. Jerrold Nadler
Sen. Hillary Clinton
Sen. Charles Schumer
Rep. Anthony Weiner
Speaker of the City Council Christine Quinn
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer
Former 9/11 Commission Member (and Stuy Alumnus) Richard Ben-Veniste
Bill Clinton
The New York Times
The Daily News

Open Letter:

To Whom it May Concern,

On February 2nd a federal judge found the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency Christie Whitman culpable enough to stand trial for putting the public in danger by making misleading statements about the air quality in lower Manhattan after the attacks of September 11th, thus upholding a class action suit filed on behalf of residents and school children in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn. Students at Stuyvesant High School, were among the many that were directly affected by the misinformation released by the Environmental Protection Agency under her leadership. We had the additional misfortune of being the first students called back to lower Manhattan after the attacks. At the time, fires were still burning at the World Trade Center site and debris was being taken to the landfill by way of a barge located directly outside our school building. We had several fire drills in our first days back that informed us of our new emergency route, which led us even closer to the burning debris at the site of the destruction (our old emergency route, up West St., was being blocked by the barge and a large crane). Although the Board of Education continually assured us of the safety of the air at our school, the smell of smoke was strong every afternoon for months after the attacks. Parents were told at the first PTA meeting after our return, that nobody, even those of us with respiratory health concerns, would be able to leave Stuyvesant for the duration of the clean-up process; we had to stay or would forfeit our spots at the school. Given the effort most of us put into getting into Stuyvesant, leaving was not an option. Eventually, we learned that the school building had not been cleaned as thoroughly as promised.

Most of the Stuyvesant students that were seniors in the year of the attacks are graduating from college this year. We are entering a world in which jobs are scarce, starting pay is low, and public benefits are dwindling. As you know, health coverage is expensive and difficult to obtain, especially on a starting salary. More Americans go bankrupt as a result of health expenses than over any other issue, and the current Administration is making very little effort to make obtaining health coverage any easier or more affordable. Additionally, as college students and soon-to-be graduates, many of us have already accrued large amounts of debt to pay for our educations.

As the canaries used to promote the revitalization of downtown Manhattan after 9/11, we were given no choice but to accept the health risks that went along with attending school in lower Manhattan in the 2001/2002 school year. Ms. Whitman’s assurances were a very relevant part of why we were permitted to return to our building, which had been used as the command center for the rescue effort at Ground Zero, only a month after September 11th, on October 9th, 2001. Our administrators and teachers already have health coverage. As students, we don’t. As victims of 9/11, and, especially, victims of Ms. Whitman’s misinformation campaign, we served as "draftees" in the media campaign to reassure the American people. At the least, in recognition of the risks we undertook simply by attending school, we should be guaranteed health insurance for the rest of our lives. It is imperative that you support us in this effort. We request your help in meeting this goal, ideally by supporting the introduction of legislation towards this end.
Sincerely,
Lila Nordstrom
(+ 240 Stuyvesant alumni and counting)

26 comments:

  1. Anonymous1:16 AM

    -Trevor Koob (e-signature)

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  2. Anonymous1:17 AM

    Class of 2002

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  3. Vanessa Cheng Class of 2005

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  4. Anonymous7:08 PM

    You say that we were "given no choice but to accept the health risks that went along with attending school in lower Manhattan." That may be true. But if we didn't have that choice, we also didn't have the choice to live in New York City, where the air is inherently polluted. Why not file a class action suit against our parents?

    I am concerned that you are starting this campaign now, when you have graduated from college and find yourself in an unfriendly world with few public health services. The paragraph about rising health costs implies that this campaign has come out of a need for health coverage, not the real issue at stake, such as the "lies" told by "Ms." Whitman.

    I personally believe that it is imposible to track whether your future health problems could be blamed on the air quality of September 11th. Given the lack of connection, how can you say that we deserve health coverage over everyone else.

    When I went back to school, I was concerned about the air quality, but I thought, we may die in 50 years because we breathed bad air for a couple of years, but people died that day, and trying to get money out of it is despicable. I believe that the fight for universal health care can be done a better way than with September 11th.

    Sincerely,
    Emma Coultrap-Bagg
    Stuyvesant 2004, Dartmouth 2008

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  5. I just wanted to respond to the comment by Emma Coultrap-Bragg because I think she seriously misunderstands the key issues of this letter.

    First off, the choice to live in New York City is made with full knowledge of the alleged potential risks that go along with it. Our parents chose to bring us up in NYC while having access to information about air quality and other pollutants. Not only does the normal air quality in New York those not compare to what we breathed in in the months after 9/11 (please take a look at some of the online information, including the documents at http://www.stuypa.org/environment/env_archive.htm), but the choice to send us back was presented without disclosing the risk, without providing suitable alternatives, and without our consent or the consent of our legal guardians. There was no real choice, and Christie Whitman has already acknowledged that she issued misleading statements about the air quality at the time. These are clearly not equivalent decisions.

    The lies that the EPA told and the state of health insurance in our country are related in our case. It is now accepted that we were exposed to dangerous chemicals. At the same time, we are of the age group that is most unlikely to have any health insurance. If we did have national health insurance, this would be a moot point, but that is not the case. Because of this, the fact that we may be unable to protect ourselves both physically and financially from the health costs of 9/11 is unnerving. This is not just an issue for us, but for the students of BMCC, the students at 234, 89, and 150, as well as the first responders that are fighting with workers comp laws to have access to their benefits, and residents who are in similar situations. An additional point is that our future HMOs may refuse to cover any health problems that THEY see as related to 9/11 by claiming they are pre-existing conditions. Anybody who is in the process of switching health insurance is vulnerable because of that.

    As far as health problems go, no monitoring of our health after 9/11 has ever been done, so there is no way we can determine what health risks we may have. In the case of others that were in the area after the attacks, however, any search of the newspaper will find that many serious health problems have already been linked to 9/11. Some similar health problems have already been observed (albeit anecdotally) in Stuyvesant students. Additionally, a study of Stuyvesant's teachers after 9/11 found that 60% were experiencing symptoms considered related to the air quality. Your personal belief that it is impossible to track future health problems is totally unrelated to the scientific reality of what is happening. Monitoring programs for first responders are able to make those connections for them, why not for us? The burden of proof should be on those responsible for our exposure, not us.

    This is not an issue of trying to abuse 9/11 for selfish gains. This is an issue of equity and of the government acknowledging it's responsibility for its actions. We are different than other people without health insurance because we went to school in a toxic waste zone. Why is it that our government can spend billions on wars that we have used 9/11 to justify, and is unwilling to take responsibility to those who were directly effected by this tragedy? What is despicable is using the fact that people died in this tragedy to silence the people that were affected and justify government inaction. This is not about terrorism and the tragedy of people dying, this is about government lies and inaction. Feel free to respond, we welcome the dialogue.
    -Lila

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  6. Lila Nordstrom2:13 PM

    By the way, I just realized I misspelled Emma's last name. Sorry about that!

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  7. andy_kapoor@hotmail.com8:07 AM

    Aw Cummon!
    Ye're really making one mountain out of a molehill here.At a time when people were literally dropping dead from the
    sky(scrapers) and the country was under a ghastly attack... instead of taking a leaf out of the book of the brave souls who were actually headed INTO the inferno to rescue others, its a fine thing for twerps like you to play the 'oh-so-delicate-poor-little- darlings' who had to take the enormous risk of rejoining their classes. Don't be daft...if the air quality in your building was safe enough for the authorities to use as a command centre in the minutes and hours after the planes struck, surely you were not put through any great risk by attending classes days later! Stop being such a whimp! Relax... you're NOT DYING!

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  8. andy_kapoor@hotmail.com8:08 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  9. In no way have we ever implied that health insurance for Stuyvesant alumni was an either/or proposition, and this in no way has anything to do with people dying, unless those people are us, other students, residents, office workers, or the first responders who, as has been reported widely, were also lied to about the safety of the air quality at ground zero and in the surrounding areas. This surrounding area includes Stuyvesant High School , and they too are getting sick and in need of health coverage. With that said, there is no need for unnecessarily rude comments to appear on this comment board.
    -Lila Nordstrom

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  10. Bruce C Dubey12:57 AM

    Lila,
    It appears that those opposing your petition are blinded by partisanship, as no reasonable person would attempt to make such silly arguments. I came here through the back door, so I don't know where your request now stands, but I wish you and all the victims of the shocking cover-up by the Bush administration, EPA, and NYC every success in achieving your goal.

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  11. Anonymous2:17 PM

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  12. Mike Vogel5:37 PM

    I am the last person to say that people who were not directly effected by the events of September 11 should be trying to profit from the unfortunate events. Nobody is trying to milk the government for money with this petition.

    Rather, it seems to me anyway, that the intent is to have the burden of costs directly related to the incidents be covered by the federal government.

    We were sent back to school just after Columbus Day under a false pretense. Had we been informed that the officials that we put our trust in were lying, many of us may not have returned. But the fact is that we did, and the officials, specifically Ms. Whitman played a risky game of Russian Roulette with our lives, and that should not be our cost to bear... especially when many are without health insurance.

    So before this turns into a political debate, consider the facts. If someone takes a risk on YOUR life, it should not be your burden to protect yourself if the risk turns out to harm you.

    (And I will not even reply to the silly accusation that we should sue our parents for living in NY... breathing in dirty air is a helluva lot different from toxic air)

    And, last, Andy... if we were not harmed by it, you are correct, this whole thing is moot. But if there is a connection between our health and our time at school in the aftermath of September 11, who would you suggest does take on that cost? And who should be looking out for it? This does not call for general health care, it calls for the government to take on the costs of health care that is related to our presence in the area.

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  20. Yang Chen, Class of 20049:04 AM

    I am not looking to get paid. I am, however, looking to get free health care for my failing lungs if that is to happen in the future.

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  21. Anonymous6:08 AM

    Lila, is it possible to e mail you?

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  22. StuyHealth@gmail.com comes to me.
    Thanks,
    Lila

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  23. Anonymous7:16 PM

    I am not a former Stuyvesant student rather I was a mother at the time with a child at another school fortunately farther from ground zero. I am dismayed by many of the comments and the tendency to accept misinformation by the government because lives were lost so in relative terms lies by the government should be accepted. The government broke several laws after 9/11 and in the process it broke the public trust. In addition, health care is a standard in most western or industrial nations. In the aftermath of 9/11 the government reacted in the most barbaric and irresponsible manner. And yes, the government should also respect pollution standards established to protect public health. They have been politically elected to enforce the rule of law, not violate it.

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  24. The sick janitor3:45 PM

    The school custodian forced the janitors to clean the debris before the school was used as a emergency command center. The janitors were made to work 24 hour shifts at the least some for multiple days in a row. All of this cleaning was done prior to any "important" people entering the building and prior to ANY and ALL Air testing! The Building was completely covered in the toxic debris and I personally had to clean the toxic debris. Everyone that has came into the building after it was cleaned by us (the custodial staff) has no clue of the coverup that was performed by the Custodian along with the City of New York in order to get the school back open as fast as possible with no regard for the health of the custodial staff!

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  25. Thank you to tell us so much useful information. So nice sharing. I’m glad to read it.

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Please leave us a comment! If you have specific questions, email stuyhealth@gmail.com.