How Our Government Allowed Hundreds of Civilians to Breathe Contaminated Air After 9/11
|Police stand in front of the New York Stock Exchange Monday Sept. 17,
2001, as workers return to the area for the first time since the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. Smoke and dust still linger in the air from the attack that destroyed the twin towers.
Many people in New York City are sick today because of exposure to the pollution from the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center - not 10 people, not 50 people, but many hundreds of people. Some suffer from shortness of breath, chronic coughing and throat irritation, and some suffer from gastroesophogeal reflux disease.
Many are so debilitated by their physical conditions that they no longer can do their jobs, and most of them can no longer enjoy life as they used to. It is possible that many more will become ill in the coming years. People worry about cancer, weakened immunity, and reproductive effects, and many experts fear that some of these worries may well be justified. No one knows what tomorrow will bring for this exposed population.
Much of the exposure that caused these illnesses, sadly, could have been avoided if our federal government had responded to the crisis of the terrorist attack with proper concern for the people exposed. On August 21, 2003, the Inspector General for the federal Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") released a disturbing165-page report documenting the fact that the White House Council on Environmental Quality blocked health risk information that EPA wanted to release to the public following the September 11, 2001 attack. That, however, is only part of the story.
This report picks up where the EPA Inspector General's report left off. It identifies how not only EPA but also the Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA") and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") failed the Ground Zero community, misinforming them about hazards and failing to take proper action to prevent exposures. It explains how the "know-nothing" tone of the federal government in this emergency had disastrous consequences for the people who serve on the "front line" of terror response. While news stories emerged as early as October 2001 about firefighters suffering from something called "World Trade Center Cough," most people outside New York are unaware of the wide range of workers and community people who have been afflicted by Ground Zero pollution. This report describes these people, their unmet needs and some continuing exposure risks.
This report documents why the federal government's failures cannot be excused by ignorance, surprise or emergency conditions, or by blaming workers who didn't wear protective masks. It warns that the Bush administration intends to make some of these failures into standard procedure for national emergencies. Finally, it recommends specific steps that the federal administration must take to change course, limit the harm from its failed approach to Ground Zero pollution, and promote better safety for the public in future national emergencies.
Photo: AP Photo/Amy Sancetta; used with permission.
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