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

Mayor Giuliani and Administrator Whitman.
Photo: EPA

Reassurances repeated

 

Nevertheless, at the top levels of government, officials continued to insist there were no real long-term hazards to the general public.

Several weeks later, a reporter for CNN.com wrote, “The smoke may be unpleasant, city, state and federal health officials agree—but it's not a health threat.” The mayor was reported saying: "It may be uncomfortable and it may be offensive—and it is in many ways—but the reality is, it is not dangerous," New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said. (10)

Meanwhile, city Health Commissioner Neal Cohen repeated assurances that the air and dust posed no “significant adverse health risks” but that people should follow precautions to guard against throat and eye irritation. Levels of particulate matter were “below levels of concern.”

Joel Miele, senior commissioner of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, too, insisted “We have bent over backwards to be as conservative as possible in our testing…and there is no significant danger to anyone’s health.”

“The officials,” according to an article in Newsday, “scoffed at a report in Friday’s Daily News that said levels of poisonous chemicals and metals in the environment at and around ‘ground zero’ exceed federal levels.” (11) 

Cohen continued to say that there might be an occasional “uptick” in elevated readings but that these “returned to acceptable levels very, very quickly.”

Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg faced the quandary of whether to allow residents’ dust-contaminated cars to be returned to them.


Yet for months while the World Trade Center burned and workers carried away debris from the site, workers and residents complained of medical problems – everything from minor nosebleeds to racking coughs as a result of exposure to smoke and dust. The health problems people were experiencing seemed to fly in the face of the government’s assertions that everything was okay.

 

By December, The Wall Street Journal – the daily newspaper hardly given to alarmism on environmental hazards – ran a front page story describing the growing fears of the public vis a vis the area’s air quality and indoor dust problems. “In the weeks since September 11, government agencies testing the air near ground zero have reached a nearly unanimous conclusion: There is no significant long-term health risk for area workers and residents. Yet hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people who live, work or go to school in lower Manhattan have experience persistent sore throats and hacking coughs. Area physicians report a surge in new or worsened asthma cases: How to explain the contradiction?”

 

Even though the government had given the ‘all clear’ that the homes and offices of Lower Manhattan and the financial district were safe to re-occupy, many questions remained. In December, Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg faced the quandary of whether to allow residents’ dust-contaminated cars to be returned to them. At first, the city health commissioner had said they could be potentially contaminated and therefore unsafe to return to their owners. Then the agency flip-flopped and told car owners they could pick them up at the landfill, giving them specific instructions on HEPA vacuuming them.