FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Lingering Clouds Over Ground Zero

September 11 was a tragedy that has changed the course of history and the way we live. It was also an environmental disaster of epic proportions. Hundreds of tons of asbestos were pulverized and dispersed around Lower Manhattan and beyond. The tens of thousands of fluorescent lightbulbs each contained enough mercury to contaminate a quarter of a city block. The Trade Center’s 50,000 computers were each made with four to twelve pounds of lead. The smoke detectors contained radioactive americium 241. The alkalinity of the air was equivalent to that of Draino. A month after the disaster, Dr. Thomas Cahill of the University of California at Davis found levels of very-fine and ultra-fine particulates that were the highest he’d ever recorded in the course of taking 7000 samples around the world, including at the burning Kuwaiti oil fields.1 In addition there were record levels of dioxin, PCBs, and all the other contaminants one might expect to find when a modern city – which is what the World Trade Center was – burns for several months. In the words of Dr. Marjorie Clarke, 9/11 was “equivalent to dozens of asbestos factories, incinerators and crematoria – as well as a volcano.” 2

Nevertheless, beginning on September 13, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued reassurances about the air quality downtown.

A report by the EPA Inspector General released in August, 2003, found that these pronouncements came about because of interference from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ.) “[B]ased on CEQ’s influence reassuring information was added to at least one press release and cautionary information was deleted;” Why was the CEQ interfering in this way? The report states: “[T]he desire to reopen Wall Street [was] considered when preparing EPA’s early press releases.” 3

As a result of EPA’s reassuring lies, Lower Manhattan reopened with much fanfare about ‘showing the terrorists.’ Often, Ground Zero workers were told not to wear respirators for fear of frightening the public. Residents removed tons of toxic debris from their homes (some of which looked like Pompeii) in accord with instructions provided by the New York City Department of Health: “Use a wet mop or wet rag.”4 On October 9, Stuyvesant High School, where this writer’s son was a student, reopened. Flanked by Ground Zero four blocks to the south, Stuyvesant also had on its north doorstep the main transfer station for the toxic debris to be carted off to Fresh Kills, Staten Island.

As a result of this placement, Particulate Matter 2.5 – dust that is small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and not come out again – was often higher at Stuyvesant than at Ground Zero. Because it is so small, P.M. 2.5 has a relatively large surface area to volume ratio which means that the toxic chemicals in the debris would adsorb (i.e., be absorbed onto its surface) onto the particles, compounding their toxicity. High levels of asbestos, lead, tetrachloroethane and isocyanates were found at the school which had been used as a triage center but whose ventilation system had not been cleaned prior to the school’s reopening.

Did Bush himself know about the air quality downtown? If he didn’t, it was because he operated on a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy so that the buck would stop short of him. The fact is: Scientists and other experts testified early and often on the dangers of the air downtown and the toxic dust in people’s homes. Yet to date all the federal government has provided is testing with outdated equipment and sometimes untried protocols; a dangerously flawed and limited cleanup and little or no health care for the affected community.

The Commission Report deals with the envirodisaster of 9/11 in a footnote in which they refer to an interview with Sam Thernstrom, coordinator for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He denies changing press releases in order to reopen Wall Street, explaining that the reasons for the changes were procedural. His story is corroborated by Christy Todd Whitman who told the initial lies.

John Gotti and Lucky Luciano have got their stories straight. But as Uncle Remus said, “You can hide the fire but how you gonna hide the smoke?”

Three years later we are beginning to see the results of the disastrous policies of the White House which put economic concerns ahead of public health. Over half of the heroes who toiled at Ground Zero now have debilitating respiratory symptoms. Among residents, workers, and the Stuyvesant community are many illnesses such as new-onset asthma, Reactive Airways Disease, and chronic bronchitis. Lawyer Robert Gulack, for instance, has suffered permanent lung damage from his exposure to contamination in the Woolworth building. And as a dreadful portent of what may be in store for the community of Ground Zero, fourteen rescue dogs have died.

The White House’s actions in response to the environmental aftermath of 9/11 reveal that Osama Bin Laden could not have stumbled on a more felicitous collaborator than George W. Bush.
JENNA ORKIN is one of twelve original plaintiffs in a potential class action lawsuit against the EPA. She is a member of the World Trade Center Environmental Organization and can be reached at: Jennakilt@aol.com

1 http://delta.ucdavis.edu/news.htm

2 http://www.911ea.org/

3 http://www.epa.gov/oigearth/reports/2003/WTC_report_20030821.pdf

4 http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/alerts/wtc1.html

 

More articles by:

Jenna Orkin is the author of Writer Wannabe Seeks Brush With Death.

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail