Healing Our World: Weekly Comment

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

September 11th Environmental Hypocrisy

"Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don't have brains enough to be honest."
-- Benjamin Franklin

Two key figures have resigned from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the last month. Both officials, the chief investigator for the EPA's Ombudsman Office and the Ombudsman himself, stated in their resignation letters that the EPA has covered up the existence of deadly pollution in the area of the destroyed World Trade Center towers in New York.

While this issue is debated, emergency workers who were sent to the scene and residents of Lower Manhattan are developing serious, and in some cases, life threatening health problems.

WTC

Dust and smoke rising from the World Trade Center site September 27, 2001 (Photos by Bri Rodriguez courtesy Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA))
We don’t even hear much about the area around the World Trade Center towers – or Ground Zero as it was dubbed by the news media - on the TV news or in the newspapers any longer. From the point of view of the corporate controlled mainstream media, the story is old. But for some firefighters and other personnel who worked or are still working at the scene, the trauma of the terrorist attacks has now become very personal as their own health is threatened.

At a New York public hearing in February, Hugh Kaufman, then chief investigator for the EPA's Ombudsman Office, told a group of scientists, residents, and small business owners that he believed the EPA was deliberately not testing the air quality in the World Trade Center area properly and covering up the reasons why.

"I believe EPA did not do that because they knew it would come up not safe and so they are involved in providing knowingly false information to the public about safety," Kaufman said at the hearing.

While the EPA continues to claim that the air around the site is safe, scores of rescue workers, cleanup crews, and residents are reporting respiratory problems. Many believe something in the air from the collapse of the towers is making them sick.

U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes the site, said at a public meeting he called at the Federal Courthouse in Lower Manhattan, "It's remarkable. Either they have something to hide or they don't give a damn."

In November, 2001, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman issued an order to dissolve the ombudsman's position, an office created to give the public a forum for complaints about the agency’s actions. The Congressional order that established the office expired last fall, and she decided not to ask for renewal. In light of what we are now learning of the effects of the Bush administration on the EPA, it is no surprise that the public oversight function would be eliminated.

workers

Many workers from FEMA, New York Fire Fighters and Urban Search and Rescue teams wore no protective masks.
The risks have been greatly magnified for many residents, rescue workers, and cleanup crews, because many did not wear any breathing protection sufficient to protect their lungs at ground zero and in the surrounding community. In fact, many day laborers, including large numbers of immigrants who spoke little or no English, were hired to clean up buildings covered with toxic dust.

We won’t hear about their ailments on the TV evening news.

Not widely reported in the news media is the fact that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) gathered data early on about the pollution levels at the site. The Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS), a scientific instrument designed to view the site in many different wavelengths, was flown on an aircraft by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA over the World Trade Center area on September 16, 18, 22, and 23, 2001.

hot spots

USGS map of hot spots at the World Trade Center site on September 16 created by imaging spectroscopy mapping. (Photo courtesy USGS)
A two person crew from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) collected samples of dusts and debris from more than 35 localities within a distance of one kilometer from the World Trade Center site on the evenings of September 17 and 18, 2001.

While not by any means a complete study, the data showed elevated levels of asbestos and many other pollutants, including the heavy metals, aluminum, chromium, antimony, molybdenum, and barium.

Government officials have tried to downplay the asbestos threat by claiming that mostly chrysotile asbestos, a form of the mineral considered to be less carcinogenic than other forms, was found. The USGS document describing the results of their tests points out that such a claim, “has not been universally accepted by the scientific community.” But it is convenient politically.

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Rescue and recovery operations at the collapsed World Trade Center, September 27, 2001
What studies done to date will not show are the localized toxic clouds of multiple substances that have been formed as millions of pounds of chemical compounds from the debris combine in unexpected ways. Many rescue and cleanup workers feel they have become ill from these invisible toxic clouds.

A reader of my weekly commentaries contacted me about her friend and colleague, a rescue worker from a fire department in another state who was ordered to the World Trade Center right after the disaster. She became progressively sicker soon after this work and has been shuttled from doctor to doctor.

A bone marrow aspiration revealed a huge level of toxic mercury in her system that could only have gotten there from an intense outside exposure. The only place she could have gotten such an exposure was at the World Trade Center.

Increased pressure inside her skull has developed, and she is having severe headaches, nausea, and nosebleeds. Her friend reported to me that, “She has a horrible rash all over her body. She has horrible cramps in her legs and back. Her lung capacity is greatly diminished and she has had major changes in her vision, and was told she is going blind. The government doctor who was sent to treat her told her to take a six month leave of absence and get her life in order because in six months she would no longer be able to perform her duties as a firefighter.”

The supervisor of this 12 year veteran rescue worker told her "all of this medical testing is fine, as long as it does not get in the way of you doing your job." With the EPA downplaying any toxic effects, she is getting little sympathy from agencies and insurance companies.

Martin

Former EPA Ombudsman Robert Martin at an evidentiary hearing in Colorado, 2000. (Photo courtesy EPA)

While studies and investigations continue, people suffer from an environmental catastrophe. I challenge a group of attorneys to come forward, find the rescue and cleanup workers who have been poisoned by working at the World Trade Center site, and force the government to accept responsibility for their health care.

We will never end terrorism in the world if we can’t eradicate injustice and greed from our own government agencies, political leaders, and industries.

RESOURCES

1. See the complete USGS report on NASA’s flight over the World Trade Center at: http://greenwood.cr.usgs.gov/pub/open-file-reports/ofr-01-0429/

2. See a collection of links related to health effects from the World Trade Center cleanup by the New York Committee on Occupational Health & Safety at: http://www.qc.edu/CBNS/WTChealthinfo.html

3. Read the full story about the EPA ombudsman’s resignation at: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/67576_ombudsman24.shtml

4. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Demand that they reveal the true nature of the danger at the World Trade Center site and compensate all injured workers, emergency personnel, and residents." If you know your Zip code, you can find them at: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html

5. See a fact sheet on pollutants at the World Trade Center site from the NY Committee on Occupational Health & Safety at: http://www.nycosh.org/wtc-catastrophe-factsheet.pdf

6. Visit the website of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project. They want the area to be declared a Superfund site. See their activities at: http://www.nyenvirolaw.org/WTC/WTC-index.htm

7. See a “USA Today” story about the anxiety over toxic substances at the WTC site at: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2002/02/07/usat-wtc-acov.htm

8. Visit a collection of news reports on this issue on Immune Web, a website for people who suffer from environmental diseases, at: http://www.immuneweb.org/911/news/

8. Read a critique of the EPA studies by “Worker’s World” at: http://www.workers.org/ww/2002/pollute0307.php

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle and the author of “Healing Our World, A Journey from the Darkness Into the Light,” available at: http://www.xlibris.com/HealingOurWorld.html. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his website at: http://www.healingourworld.com}Administration.pl/drmc.htm