Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Report: Bush showed 'reckless disregard' after 9/11 
By Graham Rayman, Newsday Staff Writer, August 18, 2004


The Bush administration misled the public about the health hazards of the smoke and dust at Ground Zero, a new report charges.

The Sierra Club report blames the thousands of cases of long-term respiratory illness among New Yorkers on the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for downplaying the health risks and shirking their regulatory oversight roles.

EPA officials, the report says, urged financial district workers to return to their jobs, repeatedly claiming the air was safe, using outdated testing gear and limited test results. The reassuring message didn't substantially change as the months dragged on, the report said.

At the same time, concerns were being raised by independent researchers.

The EPA's own researchers also noted concerns, but their studies never made it into the agency's public statements. The results were published only much later in scientific journals.

The result has been costly to local and federal governments, said Suzanne Mattei, the New York City Executive for the Sierra Club and the author of the report.

"The health care costs are significant, and there are many experienced first responders and others now on light duty, medical leave or retired because of lung problems," she said.

While the early focus was on asbestos, the more dangerous toxins were concrete dust and glass fibers -- the dangers of which were never highlighted to the public, the report concludes.

By Sept. 27, 2001, the government had test results showing the dust was caustic, but it never mentioned that in public statements, the report said. That data was not disclosed until December 2002 in a scientific journal, the report said.

Without performing a single test, the EPA already knew from many prior studies that the combination of open fires and demolition of buildings was by definition a health hazard, the report states.

"It's illegal in any state in the union," Mattei said. "It causes known health hazards. But instead of saying we need to clean to pre-contamination levels, they took a minimalist approach and used weak cleanup standards."

EPA officials yesterday issued a statement, saying, "The American public should see this report for what it is a blatant attempt to use this tragedy for political gain."

EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said, "I think their report crosses the line."

Copyright 2004, Newsday, Inc.

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