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Executive Summary

 

T

wo years after terrorists attacked the United States, the target sites have long been cleared away and scraped clean. At Ground Zero, where the twin towers and other buildings of the World Trade Center complex stood, builders are designing memorials and the community has been working at the hard effort of recovery. The Pentagon’s damaged Wedge was rebuilt within months.


Satellite image of Manhattan, NY -
September 4, 2002.

Photo: Space Imaging

In the rush to clear away the destruction, agencies at all levels of government had to coordinate their response efforts and make critical decisions quickly to protect health and safety. Environmental health professionals of all kinds stepped in swiftly, in some cases acting heroically and in others making critical mistakes. There are no ruins left behind to mark the history of their actions, except in the areas around Ground Zero where traces of toxic dust still remain. But there are stories and memories—and continuing controversies.

In this report, environment health professionals who were either directly involved in the rescue efforts of September 11, and experienced these powerful events firsthand, or are experts in the field of environmental health, occupational health, or disaster response tell their stories and suggest ways that the environmental health system can better be prepared to respond to large-scale disasters. The report is based on first hand interviews, highlighting responses by officials responsible for environmental health, occupational health and disaster response, as well as accounts in the press and public documents.

This report draws upon lessons learned from the terrorist attacks to equip environmental health professionals to better understand and anticipate the health and safety needs of communities who would respond to terrorist incidents in the future. NEHA wanted to document the stories, experiences and knowledge of these professionals in the hopes of passing on their lessons and understanding the implications for future response.

The report’s suggestions from experts recommend:

* Increased preparedness, on the part of the environmental health personnel, and better coordination of environmental health considerations in terrorism preparedness planning

* Improved scientific understanding of environmental hazards and standard-setting to meet these needs; better environmental health monitoring systems and tools in place; and more environmental health training.

* Better communication of hazards with the public, to increase public awareness of environmental health, which can save lives and reduce the public health costs associated with large-scale disasters like the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

 

Summary of findings from this report: