Garrett: Health lessons ignored after Sept. 11

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the subsequent anthrax attacks left public health officials with many opportunities to improve that they failed to capitalize on, according to a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

Laurie Garrett, an author and a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, spoke on Thursday at Harvard University about the ongoing list of public health opportunities that were missed after Sept. 11, 2001. Her 2011 book, "I Heard the Sirens Scream: How Americans Responded to the 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks," discusses health problems stemming from the attacks themselves in addition to current U.S. vulnerabilities to bioterrorism and pandemics, the Harvard Gazette reports.

"A lot of the most important public health aspects of 9/11 were completely buried and overlooked, and continue to be even today," Garrett said, according to the Harvard Gazette. "We now know that even as we were told by (EPA Administrator) Christie Todd Whitman ... that there was nothing dangerous in the air whatsoever and no cause for concern, that we were lied to."

The black plume emanating from the pile of World Trade Center ruble contained harmful chemicals such as asbestos, chlorine and other halogens. Firefighters working at ground zero experienced a 19 percent increase in all cancers, according to the Harvard Gazette.

According to Garrett, the billions of dollars the U.S. and other countries spent on biodefense after the anthrax attack has led to a global proliferation of the deadliest microbes. Subsequent budget cuts have resulted in a health system that is unable to handle pandemics and responds to bird flu epidemics by killing poultry in poor countries.

"We have asked the poor countries of the world ... to slaughter chickens over and over and over again," Garrett said, according to the Harvard Gazette. "It's not the rich world bearing the brunt of protecting itself; it's the poor world protecting the rich world."