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Failures at Ground Zero Put Nation at Risk - As House Investigates Health Effects of 9/11, Sierra Club Urges Bush to Fix Emergency Plans
Sierra Club, September 8, 2004

WASHINGTON - September 8 - As the U.S. House of Representatives today conducts a hearing to examine the health effects of 9/11 today, the Sierra Club pointed to the risks the Bush administration is taking by turning its failures at Ground Zero into policy to handle future emergencies anywhere in the country.

A recently released Sierra Club report extensively documents how the Bush administration's reckless disregard of 9/11 toxic hazards poses long-term threats to rescue and cleanup workers, as well as bystanders present in the horrible event of another attack on the nation.

The Sierra Club's recent report, "Pollution and Deception at Ground Zero," will be submitted into the official record today during a House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations hearing held to examine the status of efforts to assess the health effects from the 9/11 attack and the programs in place for monitoring health and providing assistance to victims.

"While the Bush administration has been invoking the heroes of 9/11, they continually fail to mention how they literally left many of those heroes in the dust -- to deal with toxic pollution and chronic health problems. And now the Bush administration wants to turn those mistakes into policy, putting future heroes at risk," said Carl Pope, Executive Director of Sierra Club.

Picking up where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inspector General's report left off, "Pollution and Deception at Ground Zero" takes the most comprehensive look at well-known, and little-known, health impacts of the attacks of 9/11 and, most importantly, how the Bush administration's mistakes in the aftermath are in danger of being institutionalized as policy for the handling of any future attacks on Americans.

"The heroes who gave of themselves so willingly in the aftermath of 9/11 have been given so little in return from the federal government," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY-14) at the report's release. "Many are suffering from severe health problems, but this report shows the lack of a coordinated federal response. They deserve more than limited health monitoring and no medical treatment - they deserve more than just token concern. The 'Remember 9/11 Health Act' I introduced will help remedy the shortcomings outlined in this report."

"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," said Sierra Club New York City Executive Suzanne Mattei, author of the report. "The Bush administration must restore trust in federal agencies charged with protecting health and safety, and take action to mitigate the consequences of its own failure to provide proper warning about the health hazards from Ground Zero."

The report finds that, most disturbingly, the Bush administration apparently plans to turn its missteps at Ground Zero into standard policy for any future national emergency with new emergency planning documents and weaker cleanup standards. Among those missteps:

* The Bush administration knew the health risks and ignored its own long-standing body of knowledge about the harmful products of incineration and demolition. It should have issued a health warning immediately on that basis.

* EPA failed to find toxic hazards because it did not look for them, or did not look for them properly. And EPA failed at least a dozen times to change its safety assurances as new information arose -- even after it became clear that people were getting sick.

* Many workers at and near Ground Zero did not have proper health and safety protections. And the Bush administration refused to enforce worker safety requirements at Ground Zero.

* Both EPA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assured families they could clean up contaminated dust themselves with wet rags and discouraged them from wearing safety masks.

The people affected by Ground Zero pollution include not only those who worked directly on "the pile", but also workers who restored cable and electricity, fixed windows in area buildings, cleaned up debris in the streets and buildings, as well as residents, employees, schoolchildren and business owners.

The Sierra Club report calls on President Bush to:

* Abandon plans to eliminate enforcement of federal safety standards for response workers and institutionalize political control of communications without providing strong policies to prevent false assurances of safety.

* Take action now to prevent more harm by properly cleaning up WTC dust in residences, businesses, firehouses and emergency vehicles and equipment.

* Fund long-term medical monitoring, treatment and assistance.

* Issue a retraction of false safety assurances and hold those responsible accountable.

* Work with Ground Zero-affected communities, labor unions, and environmental health advocacy groups to develop effective national policies and practices that promote truthfulness in the communication of health hazards and effective response actions.

The full report, as well as executive summary, is available online at


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