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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Toxic Mendacity 

From our indefatigable colleagues at Cursor comes word that the 9/11 death toll has just grown by one:
The death of a 34-year-old police detective who developed respiratory disease after working at ground zero is "directly related" to Sept. 11, 2001, a New Jersey coroner said in the first known ruling positively linking a death to cleanup work at the World Trade Center site . . . .

[James] Zadroga, of Little Egg Harbor, N.J., died in January of respiratory failure and had inflammation in his lung tissue due to "a history of exposure to toxic fumes and dust," Breton wrote.

The detective spent 470 hours after the attacks sifting through the twin towers' smoldering ruins, wearing a paper mask for protection. His breathing became labored within weeks, he developed a cough and he had to use an oxygen tank to breathe. He retired on disability in November 2004 . . . .

Doctors running health screening programs, including a city registry following tens of thousands of people, say it will take decades to truly assess the health effects of working at the trade center site.

"The World Trade Center Health Registry will help us draw meaningful conclusions about the long-term health effects of the WTC disaster," the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said in an e-mailed statement. "While the registry is not designed to track individual diagnoses, staff continue to evaluate the health of the nearly 71,000 residents, children, rescue and recovery workers and volunteers enrolled."
Det. Zadroga's courage cannot be overpraised; he knew the risks he was taking, did his job anyway, and paid the price for his selflessness over four and a half agonizing years. Unfortunately, many of the ordinary citizens who will soon be joining Zadroga on the casualty list -- construction workers, clean-up crews, residents, office workers, schoolchildren -- made no such heroic choice; they simply returned, before it was safe, to their homes and their jobs near Ground Zero, and were needlessly exposed to a caustic, lung-scarring mixture of asbestos, lead, PCB's, hydrochloric acid, pulverized cement, and glass fibers. Why? Because they trusted the Bush administration:
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, the White House instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to give the public misleading information, telling New Yorkers it was safe to breathe when reliable information on air quality was not available.

That finding is included in a report released Friday by the Office of the Inspector General of the EPA, "EPA's Response to the World Trade Center Collapse: Challenges, Successes and Areas for Improvement."

"When the EPA made a September 18 announcement that the air was 'safe' to breathe, it did not have sufficient data and analyses to make such a blanket statement," the report says. "Furthermore, The White House Council on Environmental Quality influenced ... the information that EPA communicated to the public through its early press releases when it convinced EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones" . . . .

Another draft statement raising concerns about "sensitive populations" such as asthma patients, the elderly and people with underlying respiratory diseases was deleted.

Discovery of asbestos higher than safe levels in dust samples from lower Manhattan was changed to state that "samples confirm previous reports that ambient air quality meets OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] standards and consequently is not a cause for public concern."

Language in an EPA draft stating that asbestos levels in some areas were three times higher than national standards was changed to "slightly above the 1 percent trigger for defining asbestos material."

This sentence was added to a Sept. 16 press release: "Our tests show that it is safe for New Yorkers to go back to work in New York's financial district." It replaced a statement that initial monitors failed to turn up dangerous samples.
Two years ago New York ran an article on non-emergency workers at Ground Zero, who suffered many of the same effects as policemen and firefighters, but lacked the health insurance and disability plans those unionized workers enjoyed:
Incredibly, thousands of people are ill from a national disaster, and the federal government is AWOL.

“From a public-health standpoint, this is an intolerable outrage,” says Dr. Stephen Levin, who oversees a program at Mount Sinai Hospital that screens thousands of patients with ground-zero-related illnesses. “There is a patchwork, at best, of treatment resources for a limited number of people. But this requires a serious federal response. Hundreds and hundreds of people are facing lives turned totally upside down by illness—without access to care.”

They include volunteers with no insurance; people whose workers’-comp claims have been stymied by insurance companies; and others who were laid off after 9/11 because they were too sick to work—and lost their insurance. These are the same people, you may recall, who were hailed as heroes after 9/11, with adulatory bumper stickers and THANK YOU signs along the West Side Highway.
The full cost in lives of the EPA's cynical deception may not be known for years to come. But, as Michael Chertoff was so fond of saying in the aftermath of Katrina, we must focus on the future, not the past. Deadly bureaucratic fuckups give us a wonderful opportunity to learn from our mistakes:
Toxic chemicals in the New Orleans flood waters will make the city unsafe for full human habitation for a decade, a US government official has told The Independent on Sunday. And, he added, the Bush administration is covering up the danger.

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