For days, a New York City police officer, Cesar A. Borja, who died of lung disease last month, was held up as a symbol of the medical crisis affecting the thousands of emergency personnel and construction workers who labored on the smoking remains of the fallen World Trade Center after the 9/11 attack. The Daily News published an article describing how Officer Borja had rushed to the trade center site after the twin towers fell, breathing in clouds of toxic dust that seared his lungs, and how he had chosen not to wear protective gear because the federal government had declared the air safe.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote to President Bush seeking more federal money to care for the workers and citing Officer Borja's months of “16-hour shifts” at the disaster site. It was a powerful story, one that brought the officer's eloquent son to the State of the Union address in Washington on Jan. 23, the day of his father's death. It turns out, though, that very few of the most dramatic aspects of Officer Borja's powerful story appear to be fully accurate. Government records and detailed interviews with Officer Borja's family indicate that he did not rush to the disaster site, and that he did not work a formal shift there until late December 2001, after substantial parts of the site had been cleared and the fire in the remaining pile had been declared out.