Scientology 'Detox' Furor

New York Post/August 15, 2004
By Heather Gilmore

The managers of a Scientology-based detox program that's been free for those officially involved in the 9/11 rescue effort now want to offer the service to thousands of other Ground Zero victims - for $5,000 each. Critics, however, are skeptical about whether the program works at all.

The clinic's advisory board, which includes Scientologists, doctors and rescue workers, is also pushing for a $1 million government grant to determine whether the program actually works.

The New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project - partially funded by practicing Scientologist Tom Cruise - plans to open its third and fourth clinics next year in Staten Island and upstate in Orange County.

In addition, a new training facility at the group's Fulton Street clinic in downtown Manhattan would teach medics the project's controversial methods of removing toxins from the body.

Project spokesman Keith Miller said trained medics could supervise programs at their own practices - reaching office workers and residents sick from inhaling pollutants they were exposed to after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

The program has been offered free to city firefighters, police officers and other rescue workers. In addition, several Wall Street workers have already paid about $5,000 to participate.

The daily regimen involves drinking niacin, which reacts to chemicals in fat, running on a treadmill and then hitting the steam room for up to four hours. These activities release toxins stored in fat cells for years, says Dr. David Root, who has administered the program for more than 20 years.

Last week, however, toxicology experts said there was no scientific evidence that toxins can be dislodged from your body by any means.

"It sounds great and they mean well, but it just doesn't work," claimed University of Georgia professor Cham Dallas, who has studied toxins in humans for more than 20 years and is a leading expert in bioterrorism.

"This is just hocus-pocus," said Dr. Bob Hoffman of the New York City Poison Control Center. "For some people, sitting in a hot environment can be very dangerous."

But Root said temperatures are carefully regulated to ensure they are safe.

The Post toured the detoxification project's clinic in Williston Park, L.I. - opened last month by Cruise - and spoke to more than 30 of the 286 firefighters, EMT volunteers and downtown residents who have completed the program. They all said that their physical and mental health had improved.

"I have to say it saved me - it saved my marriage and my family," said Eric Brodin, 34, from Engine 50/Ladder 19 in the South Bronx. "I was angry all the time, and I couldn't sleep. I felt so sick. It only took me 16 days, and the transformation was amazing - I felt like a kid again."

Retired firefighter Andy Isolano, 32, echoed Brodin's comments. "I was wheezing and had chronic asthma," he said. "When I signed up, I was skeptical, but . . . I cannot believe I don't have to take all that medicine any more."

FDNY deputy chief medical examiner Dr. David Prezant says his main concern is that many rescue workers are going off their medication without consulting their doctors before they start the program.

One retired firefighter, eager to start the program, passed out in a Queens Barnes & Noble after suffering an asthma attack. "They wanted me off my meds for 30 days before I started," said Robert McGuire, 37. "Two weeks into it I was by myself [in a store], my inhaler was in the car and I thought I was going to die.

"I was taken to the emergency room - it was really scary," he added. "I don't like being on so much medication, but I really can't live without it."

(The program's doctors deny they advised McGuire to go off his medication.)

Clinic spokesman Miller said his organization has twice asked the FDNY to help fund its research effort to test sweat and other excretions from patients for toxins - and have twice been refused.

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