New York City police officer Cesar Borja died tragically young of lung disease last month. Advocacy groups (including a website that regularly accuses tort reformers of using oversimplified “pop” anecdotes) and Senator Clinton pushed his story to the media to promote a multi-billion-dollar taxpayer giveaway program (that, not incidentally, would provide contingent fees for attorneys) by claiming that Borja was sickened as a hero working “fourteen-hour days in the smoldering pit”, and was killed by alleged government lies about the safety of the air (though the government did call for respirators that they admitted Borja didn’t wear) and the media bought it in front-page tabloid stories. (That same website has been promising since it started to link “Ground Zero workers’ challenges to a larger critique of the tort reform movement”, but has yet to formally justify that non sequitur.)
Except more facts are coming to light about Borja, and as the New York Times reports, “very few of the most dramatic aspects of Officer Borja’s powerful story appear to be fully accurate”:
- On September 11, Borja reported for duty… at the tow pound in Queens where he spent most of his career.
- Borja did not work near the site until December 24, 2001, “after substantial parts of the site had been cleared and the fire in the remaining pile had been declared out.”
- Borja thus never worked in the smoldering pit.
- Borja never worked a 14-hour shift; rather, he worked a few shifts for a total of 17 days directing traffic to add to his overtime pay, most of which were in March and April 2002, and all blocks away from Ground Zero.
- Borja smoked a pack a day until the mid-1990s.
Of course, evidence may yet arise linking Borja’s death to his work near the site. The New York Police Department and doctors, however, have yet to do so. (Sewell Chan and Al Baker, “Weeks After a Death, Twists in Some 9/11 Details”, New York Times, Feb. 13). About 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis each year; the fatal disease has no cure.
Update: David Nieporent has an amusing comment about Bizarro-Overlawyered’s shameless reaction to the revelation.
The post David responds to makes the mistake of making clear its political motivations for exaggerating health hazards from Ground Zero cleanup: a partisan smear of possible Republican presidential nominee Rudy Giuliani.