In a move that vindicates the activists and victims of the environmental disaster of 9/11, last Thursday U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts blasted former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman for her actions following the collapse of the Twin Towers and the five other buildings that were destroyed that day.
The case brought before her by residents, students and office workers who were exposed to thousands of contaminants including benzene, asbestos, mercury and lead, alleges violations of plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment right to protection against bodily harm. Concluding that Whitman’s “deliberate and misleading” statements rose to the level of “shocking the conscience,” Judge Batts’ opinion leaves open the possibility that Whitman herself could be held personally liable for resulting damages.
Commenting on next steps lawyer Robert Gulack, a union steward speaking on behalf of the union at the SEC said, “What would happen if the EPA failed to contest this lawsuit further? The EPA would be compelled to finance medical monitoring for the victims of Sept. 11;… to test and, where necessary, clean office buildings, schools, and homes in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. What would be so terrible about that? What responsible government agency would hesitate for a moment to do these things?” Gulack is a plaintiff in the case, having suffered permanent lung damage from his exposure to contaminants in the Woolworth Building downtown.
Although I represent Brooklyn in the case, it is as the mother of a student at Stuyvesant High School that I got involved in this cause. Because of the EPA’s assurances that the air was safe, both my son and my exhusband believed that our son should stay at the school. With the exception of Juan Gonzalez’ article in the Daily News on October 26, 2001, there were few public warnings early on about the ‘toxic nightmare at Ground Zero.” Gonzalez’ article was considered a red herring, what one ‘expert’ at the time brushed off as ‘yellow journalism.’ It took three months before I could gather enough data to convince my son and exhusband otherwise. But it was during those three months, while the fires burned, that the air was the worst.
At a press conference held Friday by Senator Hillary Clinton about Judge Batts’ decision, Congressman Jerrold Nadler whose district includes Ground Zero said, “I hope that EPA’s lies and wrongdoing will finally be laid bare for all to see, and that they will be forced finally to exercise their responsibilities: to clean up the WTC dust completely and provide medical treatment to all those affected.”
9/11 Environmental Action’s Kimberly Flynn added a reminder about 130 Liberty Street, formerly the Deutsche Bank building which, like many other highly contaminated buildings downtown, is slated for ‘deconstruction.’ These demolitions threaten to become 9/11, the Sequel, exposing New Yorkers to the contaminants of 9/11 all over again.
JENNA ORKIN is one of twelve original plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against EPA. She can be reached at: Jennakilt@aol.com