Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article|
Dust must clear on veil
By Juan Gonzalez, New York
Daily News, August 19, 2004
It's worse than anyone thought.
Nearly three years after 9/11, the scandal keeps growing over the federal government's
handling of the massive pollution released by the twin towers collapse.
With the Republicans coming to town, President Bush and Christie Todd Whitman, former head
of the Environmental Protection Agency, should answer questions about their own roles at
An investigation last year by the EPA's inspector general blasted the agency for claiming
after the terrorist attacks that the air in lower Manhattan was safe to breathe.
EPA did not conduct sufficient testing during the first few days to back up those claims,
the IG reported, and White House aides then rewrote agency press releases to minimize
Now a new report by the Sierra Club, the nation's oldest environmental organization,
charges that the EPA covered up results of federal tests that pointed to more widespread
health threats to rescue workers, downtown residents and office employees.
The Sierra Club report claims the Bush administration showed a "reckless
disregard" for public health.
It's based on EPA records and several recent scientific studies about Ground Zero. Among
The EPA claimed as late as April 2002 that it had found no traces of polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons (PAHs), a family of organic chemicals that can cause cancer. But in the weeks
after the twin towers' collapse EPA's own scientists found significant levels of PAHs in
the air several blocks north of Ground Zero. The agency did not disclose those results
until two years later, when they were published in an obscure scientific journal.
Eight weeks after 9/11, a survey by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health found that government employees at a federal building several blocks north of
Ground Zero were battling an amazing array of physical ailments. NIOSH compared the
workers with a control group of federal employees in Dallas.
It found those in lower Manhattan showed a much higher incidence of shortness of breath,
chest tightness, nausea, severe headaches, rashes, and coughs.
Childhood clinic visits for asthma jumped sharply at the Charles B. Wang Community Health
Center in Chinatown in the year after 9/11; new cases jumped from 306 the previous year to
While health officials routinely track such spikes, the Chinatown increase was not made
public until this year, when an article appeared in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical
An EPA statement called the report a "blatant attempt to use this tragedy for
Which brings us to Whitman, who garnered much attention this week when she called for Gov.
Jim McGreevey of New Jersey to resign immediately for giving an alleged lover a government
So when will Whitman answer for her own role in the far more serious EPA coverup at Ground
As for Bush, the Sierra Club report is the first to connect some important dots to him as
The report points out that former White House anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke, in his
book "Against All Enemies," claims that on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush
told several staff members, Clarke among them "I want the economy back, open for
business right away, banks, the stock market, everything tomorrow."
According to Clarke, when the President was told there was "physical damage to the
Wall Street infrastructure," he responded "As soon as we get the rescue
operations done up there, shift everything to fixing that damage so we can reopen."
Clarke's recollection is echoed by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. In his tell-all
book, O'Neill recalls that on Sept. 12, one of his aides told him, "The President
wants to open the New York Stock Exchange tomorrow."
Of course, there's nothing wrong with Bush's wanting to return Manhattan to normal as soon
as possible. But what did Whitman, as this nation's top environmental official, tell the
President about the health risks of sending thousands of people back to lower Manhattan so
Did she just follow orders when she gave New Yorkers the "all clear"? Did White
House aides rewrite EPA press releases just to please the boss?
Only she and Bush can answer those questions. It's about time they do.
All contents © 2004 Daily News, L.P.
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