The American worker just lost a good friend.
Stephen M. Levin, M.D., an occupational health specialist who lobbied tirelessly on behalf of 9/11 first responders more than a decade ago at Ground Zero, died at his New York City home last week, leaving behind thousands whom he helped with healthcare. Levin died of lung cancer, according to The New York Times.
Levin, 70, was one of the first to understand the respiratory dangers to anyone even close to the collapse of the World Trade Center, predicting almost immediately the implications of the carcinogenic dust cloud that hung in the air for weeks.
He knew just how toxic the asbestos fibers were, and where they would lead.
“The number of workers whose health he protected is in the tens of thousands,” colleague Phillip Landrigan, M.D., of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine told The New York Times. “These include those whom he treated directly, but also those he protected through his advocacy and research findings.”
While the NYC Health Department dragged its feet, and the federal government was even slower to respond, Levin was imploring police, fire department and later cleanup responders to don protective gear.
Within 24 hours of the terrorist attack, he began urging officials to prepare for the health disaster that would follow with responders. He knew before anyone else.
It was Levin, as director of the Irving Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine in New York, who gathered his peers and began plans for a clinic to provide examinations and treatment before the responders even started coming.
As the number of patients began multiplying into the tens of thousands, he helped conduct research that proved the existence of specific Ground Zero illnesses to spark the federal government into more decisive action.
According to one study less than five years later, almost 90 percent of the responders had experience a respiratory problem of some degree.
The exposure to asbestos has can lead to a myriad of problems, some of which are still lurking. Mesothelioma cancer, which is caused by an exposure to asbestos, can have a latency period of up to 50 years before symptoms develop.
Although he left his leadership role at the Selikoff Center in 2006, he continued to treat World Trade Center patients and lobby Congress for help with the health care. He was a major factor in getting the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2010, which included $4.3 billion in medical care.
Levin also was instrumental in some of the research done in Libby, Montana, where the vermiculite mines were causing mesothelioma and asbestos to both workers and residents in the area.
Trying to protect American workers became Levin’s specialty years before 9/11. In the 1990’s he successfully lobbied New York State and the federal government to protect workers from lead poisoning.