info 09.16.19

Ground Zero: Clearing the Air (Part I)

It took an unconscionable amount of time but 9/11 first responders finally have a fully-funded, permanent Victim Compensation Fund. Congress has, at long last, met the need. But why are so many first responders sick? Why are more people likely to die from 9/11 than died on 9/11? Was it inevitable, given the nature and scale of the attack? A review of the public records and a reminder, if one were needed, that when public officials lie or dissemble, the consequences can be devastating.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2001

"At the request of the New York City Department of Health, EPA and the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have been on the scene at the World Trade Center monitoring exposure to potentially contaminated dust and debris. Monitoring and sampling conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday have been very reassuring about potential exposure of rescue crews and the public to environmental contaminants.

EPA's primary concern is to ensure that rescue workers and the public are not exposed to elevated levels of asbestos, acidic gases or other contaminants from the debris. Sampling of ambient air quality found either no asbestos or very low levels of asbestos. Sampling of bulk materials and dust found generally low levels of asbestos…

EPA is greatly relieved to have learned that there appears to be no significant levels of asbestos dust in the air in New York City, said Administrator Whitman."

[EPA Press Release]

Compare that EPA press release to this reporting a decade later from ProPublica:

"Early on Sept. 13, a day and a half after the World Trade Center towers collapsed, Thernstrom [ID] called OSHA's New York office to say Whitman was on her way to the city to talk to reporters about the agency's air testing 'since all monitoring reports have been so positive thus far,' according to an OSHA email.

But according to its own records, the EPA had only tested a handful of asbestos samples before Sept. 14 and didn't get the results of tests for other contaminants until Sept. 23.

A joint press release put out by the EPA and OSHA said dust samples taken from cars and buildings on Sept. 13 had asbestos levels "slightly above" the 1 percent level at which federal regulations apply. The new documents, however, specify that the samples contained 2.1 to 3.3 percent asbestos—or 200 percent to 300 percent higher than the trigger standard."

September 8, 2011

SEPTEMBER 14, 2001

"EPA will be deploying sixteen vacuum trucks this weekend in an effort to remove as much of the dust and debris as possible from the site where the samples were obtained," said EPA Administrator, Christine Whitman. "In addition, we will be moving six continuous air monitoring stations into the area. We will put five near ground zero and one on Canal Street. The good news continues to be that the air samples have all been at levels that cause us no concern."

[OSHA and EPA Press Release]

SEPTEMBER 16, 2001

"We have fact-based public health information to allay any concerns of rescue workers risking their lives to clear the disaster sites, as well as for those returning to work or living near the sites," Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said.
[Health and Human Services Fact Sheets
on Dust, Debris, and Asbestos

What was actually in the air:

Workers were exposed to a complex mix of toxic chemicals and to extreme psychological trauma. These exposures varied over time and by location. Combustion of 90,000 L of jet fuel immediately after the attacks created a dense plume of black smoke containing volatile organic compounds (including benzene), metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The collapse of the twin towers (WTC 1 and WTC 2) and then of a third building (WTC 7) produced an enormous dust cloud containing thousands of tons of coarse and fine particulate matter (PM), cement dust, glass fibers, asbestos, lead, hydrochloric acid, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides, and polychlorinated dioxins and furans. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates of airborne dust ranged from 1,000 to > 100,000 μg/m3. The high content of pulverized cement made the dust highly caustic (pH 10–11).

[National Center for Biotechnology Information]

SEPTEMBER 18, 2001

[EPA press release]

"We're going to make sure everybody is safe."
Television interview

OCTOBER 25, 2001

Subject: Dioxin at WTC
"Just reviewed a sample taken at the WTC (in or near the plume I believe). The sample time was greater than 24 hours. The results was very high 95.7 pg/m3. EPA is saying it is one of the highest levels they have ever seen. [MUG's emphasis] I think we need to do more sampling and expand it around the area a bit to confirm and verify the sampling."

[OSHA emails]
Page 47

OCTOBER 26, 2001

The Daily News reported what New Yorkers could smell every day throughout the city day while the fires still burned: A Toxic Nightmare at Disaster Site: Air, water, soil contaminated

October 30, 2001

[Senate Hearing on Air Quality in NYC
After the September 11, 2001 Attacks
Attachment 12
page 1496

Look closely at the sentence structure from an EPA press release six weeks after the tragedy. Note how the two sentences are talking about completely different things: the first sentence is about the air in and around Ground Zero. The second sentence is about the risk to the general public.

This is significant given Christine Todd Whitman's defense in 2007 in front of Congress when she claimed that she meant the air for the public was okay, not the air at the pile.

MARCH 11, 2002

"When Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman announced to New Yorkers, shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks, that their "…air is safe to breathe," she misled the public because the EPA did not have the proper information to make such an assurance. The EPA also misled the public about air quality by mischaracterizing its own data and ignoring or withholding other critical data that contradicted Ms. Whitman's assurances."

Lower Manhattan Air Quality
U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler White Paper

AUGUST 21, 2003

The EPA's Office of Inspector General made it clear in a 2003 report that the EPA was wrong to make its assurances in the days following the September 11 attack regarding air quality and that The White House Council on Environmental Quality convinced the EPA to "add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones."

"EPA's early public statements following the collapse of the WTC towers reassured the public regarding the safety of the air outside the Ground Zero area. However, when 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. At that time, air monitoring data was lacking for several pollutants of concern, including particulate matter and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Furthermore, The White House Council on Environmental Quality influenced, through the collaboration process, 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."

EPA OIG Report

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