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October 2011

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Woychik addresses NY Committee for Occupational Safety and Health

By Eddy Ball
October 2011

Rick Woychik, Ph.D.

Looking ahead, Woychik assured his audience that NIEHS is poised to respond. “NIEHS, along with its academic research centers and other partners, stands ready to carry forward the lessons of 9/11 in assuring public health protections, top-notch scientific research, and clear evidence-based health communications for responders and their communities.” (Photo courtesy of Rick Woychik)

NIEHS Deputy Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D.(, was an invited speaker at the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH)( Exit NIEHS conference Sept. 16 in New York City, themed “Protecting Worker and Community Health: Are We Prepared for the Next 911?”

Along with pointing to the role of NIEHS in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks (WTC), Woychik expressed condolences to survivors and emphasized the importance of maintaining the financial and human resources needed for immediate response to future disasters. “As we learned during the 9/11 response, and more recently in the Gulf oil spill response,” he maintained, “it is critical to establish funding mechanisms to support a rapid and robust scientific response to disasters.”

In addition to Woychik and several other congressional, academic, medical, and first responder representatives, the conference featured speakers from three other major federal agencies that had responsibility at the WTC site:

  • John Howard, M.D., WTC Health Program administrator and director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
  • David Michaels, Ph.D., assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
  • Mathy Stanislaus, J.D., assistant administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response

NIEHS support for WTC-related health effects

In his presentation, Woychik spoke proudly of the rapid response by the NIEHS Worker Education and Training Program (WETP) following the attack on Sept. 11, 2001. He noted action by WETP to provide immediate supplemental funding for universities, unions, and community groups to support site worker safety training, the provision of respirators and fit testing, initiation of direct worker exposure monitoring, and technical consultation on the development of a site safety plan for workers clearing the enormous pile of debris at Ground Zero.

Woychik described the success of WETP in completing the first comprehensive safety and health training assessment of site hazards and risks during the third week of September 2001, which laid the basis for a subsequent safety-awareness training program for the more than 7,000 workers who participated in the WTC cleanup. He also discussed ongoing academic research efforts launched soon after 9/11 and funded by NIEHS that, among other accomplishments, led to the identification and characterization of the World Trade Center cough, its associated symptoms, and duration of the condition.

Forewarned should be forearmed

As effectively as responders performed after 9/11, especially considering no one had anticipated a disaster of that magnitude, Woychik argued, the WTC should serve as a warning for agencies to prepare responses to such large-scale disasters in the future well before they occur.

These responses, Woychik continued, should strive to integrate individuals and communities affected by a disaster as full partners in scientific investigations related to the disaster; to standardize approaches to data collection and sharing by federal, state, and local response organizations; and to identify, develop, deploy, and maintain new information technology for collecting data in the field.

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