Title Page Previous Next Contents | Part 3. Was environmental health protected on 9/11? Whistleblowers, watchdogs and wee little people >Deeper criticisms

Deeper criticisms


Today, Thomas Cahill, co-author of the DELTA study faults EPA for failing to realize the serious repercussions of the World Trade Center on the urban environment.


“They did a marvelous job at first, racing in with great bravery into the smoldering pile,” says Cahill. “But the agencies involved should have realized that this was not a typical building collapse, especially with the huge volume of building materials on the pile continuously burning.”


It wasn’t so much that they didn’t do things right as that they did things too much by the book, failing to get beyond the standard measurements under the clean air act, and failing to recognize how extraordinary this ‘pollution event’ was. 


“It’s like that line from the film Casablanca. ‘Round up the usual suspects!’  But the usual suspects weren’t the problem, Cahill says.


In a survey done in May 2002 regarding public health issues following September 11, residents of lower Manhattan expressed more concern about air quality than they did about another terrorist attack.


Cahill believes that the volume of dust, the high particulate counts, the fineness of the dust, and most importantly, the final aerosols in the anaerobic fire under ‘the pile’ that caused the most danger to the public in releasing unprecedented levels of carcinogens.


“Everyone knew it,” says Cahill. “It was burning insulation, plastics, in a plume that burned above the pile but also on numerous occasions rolled across the city.”


On the eve of the second anniversary of September 11, Dr. Cahill released the conclusions of his study of the fine aerosols sent up into the air during the catastrophic World Trade Center collapse and fires. In an article in the scientific journal Aerosol Science and Technology  Cahill wrote that breathing the air around Ground Zero was much like that around a chemical factory. “The WTC plume resembled in many ways those seen from municipal waste incinerators and high temperatures processes in coal fired power plants,” he wrote.


Instead of the ordinary measurements they took, the agencies should have had more imagination to realize the health threats, Cahill says, adding,  “and more common sense.”


People who moved away temporarily, he says, listening to their inner instincts, were the smart ones, adds Cahill.


Marjorie J. Clarke, a Scientist-in-Residence at Lehman College, and expert on waste incineration, argues that the synergistic mixtures of pollutants also need to be considered for the next terrorist event. “The environmental agencies at all levels need to become more expert in evaluating the health and environmental effects of various mixtures of pollutants,” she testified to the Senate Environment Committee. She argues that EPA should rewrite its air quality standards to assess the impacts of various combinations of pollutants. This way, she says, there will be standards in place “next time to know how to protect the public health.”


While scientists debated the fine points of particulates and their impacts on human health, New Yorkers simply registered great worries in widely publicized polls and surveys.


In a survey done by the Mellman Group in May 2002 regarding public health issues following September 11, residents of lower Manhattan expressed more concern about air quality than they did about another terrorist attack. Seventy-four percent (74%) said air pollution was “a big problem” in their community, with 29% saying it is a "very big" problem, according to the market research company, whose poll was based on a survey of 500 residents living south of Canal Street in Lower Manhattan.


Indeed, in a very real sense, dust still did lurk in school carpet, office air vents, and crevices of cars and trucks and people’s apartments—even after many previous cleanups.


At the same time, new grassroots community organizations formed to respond to local health concerns. But the 9/11 Environmental Action Group, calls EPA’s recent efforts to clean apartments “a complete joke.”


Kimberly Flynn, outreach coordinator for the group, says “First there was the buildup, which took forever, then there was the speedup, as they rushed to finish up apartments for the few that knew about it.” As a result, she says, less than 15 percent of eligible residences were actually served. “There’s still concern about the long term effects and residual dust,” adds Flynn, who still signs people up at block parties for the group’s information.


Unfortunately, EPA’s last-ditch efforts to “assuage public concern,” as they put it, says Flynn, have done the opposite. “If their communications to the public had been clear and truthful from the beginning, New Yorkers are very savvy and would have understood the need to weigh relative risks,” says Flynn. “Can you really lie to people from one of the most sophisticated cities on the planet?”


It’s hard to undo the negative effects of its early pronouncements of safety, she says. “That set off a ‘domino effect.’ With that utterance from Christie Whitman, the Administrator saying ‘all’s safe’ then DOH was able to say ‘residents are just experiencing temporary irritation’ and FEMA didn’t have to pay for health-related expenses, and insurance companies were able to absolve themselves of responsibility.”


But their claim that there would be no short term or long-term consequences has already been proved wrong, argued Marjorie Clarke. We can already see the evidence.

Meanwhile, advocates for rescue workers feared the worst. “ The preliminary results are frightening: fire fighters, police officers and abatement workers are presenting with onset of asthma, chronic cough and respiratory irritation, and even GERD (acid reflux) as a result of the exposures they suffered after the collapse,” wrote Arthur Scheuerman Battalion Chief FDNY Retired, Former Deputy Chief Instructor Nassau County Fire Training Academy. “The true effects, on rescue workers, as well as residents and workers may not become known for decades.

“What is certain is that the toxicity of the site is far in excess of what was first disclosed,” wrote Scheuerman, “It is yet another vision of what the Trade Towers have become.”

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