Huffpost New York
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Dan Collins Headshot

Gulf Oil Spill: Don't Forget 9/11, Mr. President

Posted: Updated:

Remember 9/11, Mr. President.

There are lessons there for the oil spill crisis, and not the ones you might imagine.

The frustration and anger from the Gulf Coast are understandable. Everybody shares it. Particularly when we hear stories that suggest the government isn't doing all it can to protect the coast, the beaches, the wildlife and the fishing industry from the effects of the spill.

For those of us who lived through the aftermath of Sept. 11, it all has a chilling familiarity.

After the towers fell, the offers of help were endless. The people who raced to the site to help -- the construction workers and the emergency responders -- are continuing to suffer from ailments that almost surely were caused by their long exposure to toxic air at the site.

They were unstoppable, and because of their efforts the dead were recovered and the city brought back to normal faster than expected.

Their response then is killing them now.

This is the dark heritage of 9/11. Whenever we gather to remember, we celebrate the responders' heroism. But we still haven't quite acknowledged that our leaders, from Rudy Giuliani on down, never adequately warned the men and women working around the smoldering site that the place where they were flinging themselves into duty was a toxic landmine.

If we've learned anything from this tragic experience, it's that a little saved time is not worth the cost.

The bravest, most responsible thing a leader can do in these circumstances is to keep the willing volunteers and clean-up workers from injuring themselves in their attempts to help.

The people rescuing wildlife, containing the spill and cleaning the beaches are being exposed to many of the same environmental dangers faced by those who heroically rushed to the twin towers.

Jerrold Nadler, the New York congressman whose district includes the World Trade Center, told HuffPost: "We're repeating the same catastrophe in the Gulf. You see pictures of people wearing regular clothes who are wading in and scooping oil off the water. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people, are going to get sick unnecessarily."

Many of them need to wear protective clothing, which is so ridiculously uncomfortable in 110-degree weather that the crews can only work for short periods of time before breaks.

The temptation to shuck it must be enormous. It was that way in far-cooler Manhattan.

Chances are that nobody will reward you for protecting the would-be-volunteers and rescue crews, Mr. President. Giuliani took the easier path and the world still honors him as a 9/11 hero.

But history is offering you a lesson. Remember the dead, the sick, the disabled second generation of World Trade Center victims -- and do the right thing.