Questions Crop Up In Death Of Ground Zero Worker

Tuesday, February 13th 2007, 6:24 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The search for World Trade Center heroes led the media last month to Cesar Borja, a police officer killed by a lung disease his family believes was caused by exposure to toxic dust at ground zero.

But the extent of his involvement in rescue and recovery efforts, widely reported by news media including The Associated Press, has become murky.

News reports described the NYPD veteran rushing downtown on Sept. 11 to aid in the rescue effort and said he spent months working 16-hour shifts atop the smoldering rubble.

When he died of pulmonary fibrosis Jan. 28, Borja became a potent symbol of emergency workers suffering from lung problems. His son attended the State of the Union address hours after his father's death as the guest of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and met with President Bush several days later in Manhattan.

Yet Borja's work log shows that his first shift at the Trade Center was Dec. 24, 2001, when the fires burning in the rubble had been extinguished and cleanup was well under way.

Borja worked 17 other shifts in lower Manhattan over the next four months, each about 12 hours long. The records, filed with police pension officials, indicate that his official duties were to provide security and traffic control at posts a block or two from the Trade Center pit.

That version of Borja's role was first reported Tuesday by The New York Times. The paper based its account on work records and interviews with Borja's widow, who acknowledged that her husband hadn't been at the Trade Center in the initial months after the attacks.

Still, ``he was exposed, and that's what matters,'' Eva Borja said in an interview with WCBS-TV.

Ceasar Borja Jr. told WCBS he believes other workers who said they saw his father working directly on the rubble pile, even if no such notation was in the officer's work records.

``The whole argument of it being September or December, who cares?'' he said. ``The basics is that my father was there, and he passed away.''

Family members did not return calls Tuesday from the AP.

In Washington, Clinton _ who demanded more federal money for ailing workers after hearing about Borja _ said none of the new details changed her view.

``I believe that everyone who worked, volunteered, or was exposed to ground zero, whether it was for days, weeks or months, deserves our support and our help,'' she said.

An autopsy is being performed to help determine whether there is a connection between Borja's death and his work in lower Manhattan.