Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Report: Bush 'Reckless' on Post-9/11 Health Risks
By Mark Egan, Reuters, August 18, 2004

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Bush administration was guilty of reckless disregard by failing to inform New Yorkers of health risks from toxic air after the collapse of the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a leading environmental group said Wednesday.

In a Sierra Club report titled, "Air Pollution and Deception at Ground Zero: How the Bush Administration's Reckless Disregard of 9/11 Toxic Hazards Poses Long-Term Threats for New York City and the Nation," the influential group said the Bush administration's mistakes are now in danger of becoming policy for handling future disasters.

"The Bush administration has learned nothing from the illnesses and hardships suffered by the Ground Zero community. Rather, it plans to perpetuate them in any future national disaster anywhere else in the United States," the report's author Suzanne Mattei said.

The destruction of the twin towers shot pulverized asbestos, lead, concrete, glass and other debris into the air throughout lower Manhattan.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dismissed the report as "scare tactics" and said it was committed to protecting the health of New Yorkers and improving its emergency procedures.

"The American public should see this report for what it is: a blatant attempt to use this tragedy for political gain," the EPA said in a statement.

The Sierra Club report was highly critical of how the Bush administration handled the environmental impact of the towers' collapse, which claimed nearly 2,800 lives and blanketed lower Manhattan with dust and debris.


Among the charges made in the report were:

--the Bush administration failed to warn the public immediately of long-standing evidence that such a collapse would release toxins and make the air unsafe to breathe.

--that the EPA failed on at least a dozen occasions to change its safety assurances even after it became clear people were getting sick.

--that the Bush administration failed to enforce safety requirements among workers on the Ground Zero clean-up effort.

Last year the EPA, in an internal report by its Inspector General Nikki Tinsley, said the White House pressured the agency to make premature statements that the air was safe to breathe.

The EPA issued an air quality statement on Sept. 18, 2001, even though it "did not have sufficient data and analyzes to make the statement," the EPA report said, adding that the White House "convinced the EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones." Among the information withheld was the potential health hazards of breathing asbestos, lead, concrete and pulverized glass.

The Sierra Club report said hundreds of people were seriously ill as a result of breathing contaminated air after the buildings fell. It said much of the dust was as caustic as ammonia and had an effect akin to drinking drain cleaner.

Noting President Bush will accept his party's nomination for re-election in New York, Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope urged him to take steps to properly clean the remaining dust in lower Manhattan, fund long-term medical monitoring and treatment and retract false safety assurances.

Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited.


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