“I am honored that Secretary (Kathleen) Sebelius (Secretary of Health and Human Services) and Dr. (Thomas) Freiden (director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have given me the opportunity to serve again as the director of NIOSH, and to resume duties as Coordinator of the Department of Health and Human Services’ World Trade Center Health Programs.”

And with that, Dr. John Howard announced his comeback at NIOSH and the WTC Health Programs, a rather remarkable example of political resilience and determination. Howard had been banished from his NIOSH post toward the end of the Bush administration, the result of internecine conflicts with his bosses and his candidness about the lack of funds earmarked for the WTC Health Programs. Washington sources said after President Obama’s election, Howard was on the short list of candidates for the OSHA chief job, and had expressed a desire to stay on in Washington and possibly return to his old NIOSH post.

He was dismissed from the top NIOSH job in July, 2008 after six years in the position, and reappointed in September, 2009. He maintained a desk at CDC during his “exile.”

Dr. Howard’s eloquence and passion that had endeared him to many safety and health workplace advocates was again evident in his first post on NIOSH’s web site. Here is what he had to say:

“Eight years later, the attack on the World Trade Center continues to cast a long shadow. We honor the men and women who perished in the attack, and we find inspiration in the strength and courage of their families and loved ones.

“The observance of 9/11 also reminds the nation of the dedication and heroism shown by the responders who served at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the catastrophe. We in NIOSH have been privileged to work with the responder community and other partners to address critical occupational safety and health needs that emerged from the tragedy. We are proud that much has been accomplished through this teamwork during the past eight years. We recognize that more remains to be done, and we are committed to further progress.

“I invite you to read the new NIOSH Science Blog at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/blog/, which discusses one such area of ongoing partnership. In the 1990s, NIOSH and its stakeholders had already recognized and had begun to address needs for personal protective equipment that would meet the emerging occupational health demands of the 21st Century. 9/11 added even greater urgency to this mission. From the lessons of Ground Zero, the occupational health community identified critical needs relating to the design, availability, use, and maintenance of respirators for responders.

“As the federal agency responsible for testing and certifying respirators for workplace use, and for conducting research to advance workplace respiratory protection, NIOSH has followed up with our stakeholders on several fronts to address those needs. The NIOSH Science Blog provides further details about those initiatives, and invites your comments.

“Concerns continue regarding adverse health effects associated with exposure to the smoke, dust, fumes, and emotionally wrenching conditions of Ground Zero. Since 2001, NIOSH has been privileged to administer federal funds that support the health monitoring and treatment of responders who served at the rescue and recovery site, and of Lower Manhattan residents, cleanup workers and others affected by the WTC disaster.

We have been extremely honored to work closely with Ground Zero responders, recovery and cleanup workers, Lower Manhattan residents, students, school staff and workers, and with their dedicated health providers, to support these vital efforts. More than 51,000 responders, nearly 2,000 community members, and tens of thousands of others have been served through programs funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Health monitoring and treatment are crucial for identifying symptoms of illness and psychological trauma, and for designing effective interventions. From knowledge gained through these programs, we also have a means to help us identify trends in the respiratory, gastrointestinal and psychological illnesses among the exposed populations of responders and community members. From this experience, we hope that we can better anticipate the ongoing needs of the populations affected by the WTC Disaster on September 11, 2001 and then take those lessons and apply them to future emergency preparedness and response needs.

Already, a number of studies in the peer-reviewed medical science literature, drawn from the WTC exposure experience, have been published since 2001. Recently published studies indicate a troubling persistence of respiratory and psychological symptoms and illnesses among the exposed populations. I commend this growing body of literature to you, including the most recent journal articles from the WTC Health Registry, the New York City Fire Department and from the WTC Environmental Health Center of the Health and Hospitals Corporation of New York City. These most recent articles are:

Brackbill, et al, “Asthma and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms 5 to 6 Years Following Exposure to the World Trade Center Terrorist Attack.” JAMA. 2009;302(5):502-516.

Webber, et al, “Trends in Respiratory Symptoms of Firefighters Exposed to the World Trade Center Disaster: 2001–2005.” Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 117, Number 6, June 2009

Reibman, et al. “Characteristics of a Residential and Working Community With Diverse Exposure to World Trade Center Dust, Gas, and Fumes. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 51(5):534-541, May 2009.

Since the World Trade Center Disaster in 2001, NIOSH has been privileged to administer the federal funding for World Trade Center health surveillance, monitoring, and treatment for responders and the community through its annual appropriations. A bill pending in Congress, H.R. 847, titled the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2009, would Congressionally authorize a formal World Trade Center health program in NIOSH. The legislation is named for Detective James Zadroga of the New York City Police Department, whose death in 2006 greatly heightened public attention to the health concerns of the World Trade Center responders and the community.

As we commemorate the eighth year since the terrible loss on September 11, 2001, I look forward to working with all of you to continue our important work on behalf of those who suffer, and still suffer, health effects from the World Trade Center Disaster eight years ago.