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EPA, Whitman blasted for lies about post 9/11 air quality

Published Feb 17, 2006 10:21 PM

A federal judge blasted the Environ mental Protection Agency and its former head Christie Whitman on Feb. 4 for issuing public and repeated statements that Lower Manhattan air was safe to breathe in the days right after 9/11.

Safety and health activists have long contended that post-9/11 health and environmental risks were not fully reported. Falling and burning buildings released 2,000 tons of asbestos, lead from 50,000 computers, 424,000 tons of concrete pulverized into dust, cancer-causing PCBs and other toxins.

U.S. District Judge Deborah A. Batts ruled the EPA and Whitman were not protected from a class-action lawsuit filed by workers, residents and students in Lower Manhattan who returned to contaminated workplaces, homes and schools after the EPA’s false assurances. The areas affected also included Chinatown, the Lower East Side and Brooklyn.

“No reasonable person would have thought that telling thousands of people that it was safe to return to lower Manhat tan, while knowing that such return could pose long-term health risks and other dire consequences, was conduct sanctioned by our laws,” Judge Batts said. She found Whitman’s actions “conscience-shocking” because the EPA chief knew the twin towers’ collapse had generated tons of airborne toxic materials.

The ruling greenlights a lawsuit that seeks a special fund for medical monitoring and treatment of long-term health effects in non-emergency workers, residents and students who were exposed to the toxic air and toxin-laden debris that blanketed the area after 9/11; damages for exposure to hazardous materials from the World Trade Center collapse; and reimbursement for cleanup costs.

Currently only 9/11 rescue and recovery workers are eligible for medical monitoring and treatment, with 15,000 actually being monitored.

But even this group, praised by local and national authorities, had to fight hard in 2005 to keep the Bush administration from cutting their program by $125 million—just as some were starting to die from 9/11-related illnesses.

White House, Wall St.
also to blame

Some air is bound to be cleared as the lawsuit against EPA goes forward. But the Bush administration and its capitalist backers on Wall Street should not be let off the hook.

The White House manipulated EPA statements and news releases on air quality in the days after Sept. 11, according to an August 2003 EPA Inspector General report. The Bush spin doctors deleted cautionary information and added reassurances that the EPA did not have the data to support.

EPA Administrator Marianne Horinko admitted that the Bush administration used the National Security Council, not environmental or public health experts, to filter data about Ground Zero air and water quality because “the thinking was, these were the experts on weapons of mass destruction.” The White House then coordinated the public release of information from the NSC and other federal agencies. (Newsday, Aug. 23, 2003)

“The agencies have made it a priority to get the lower Manhattan financial and stock markets up and running at any cost. In so doing, they have allowed thousands of people to be exposed to substances that haven’t even all been identified, let alone quantified,” said Joel Shufro, Executive Director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, which represents more than 250 unions. (St. Louis Post Dispatch, Jan. 12, 2002)

The cooked-up disinformation led people to return to contaminated areas too soon and at risk to their health. Down on Wall Street, the financial heart of U. S. capitalism, the Stock Exchange and big corporations promised workers free lunch and donuts—while toxic fires were still burning at the site of the Twin Towers.