FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail