Documents Suggest Officials Downplayed Risks to Workers After 9/11

Did federal authorities, eager to project an image of a resilient, business-as-usual New York City soon after the 9/11 attacks, intentionally downplay the potential environmental health hazards in and around ground zero?

The investigative news organization ProPublica reports that documents have emerged showing that federal officials in Washington and New York went further than previously known to understate the health risks to workers in the area. Authorities, it reports, misrepresented or concealed information that might have protected thousands of people from contaminated air.

One case in point: a warning that people should not report to work on a busy thoroughfare in the financial district, Water Street, was rewritten to instead urge them to return to their offices as soon as the financial district opened on Sept. 17.

Federal officials also declared that testing showed the area was safe when sampling of the air and dust—which ultimately found very high levels of toxic chemicals—had barely begun.

The initial assertion came in a joint news release from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency two days after 9/11. It indicated that dust samples taken from cars and buildings on Sept. 13 had asbestos levels “slightly above” the 1 percent level at which federal regulations apply. Yet, at that point, only a handful of asbestos samples had been evaluated, and the results of tests for other contaminants wouldn’t be available for 10 more days.

The newly disclosed documents now show that the samples contained 2.1 percent to 3.3 percent asbestos — more than double or triple the federal standard. And dioxin, a carcinogen, eventually was found in and around ground zero at levels 1,000 times higher than normal.

Last week some of the hazards confronted by 9/11 emergency responders came into sharper focus. A study published in the journal The Lancet found that firefighters who worked at ground zero were 19 percent more likely to develop cancer than their counterparts who were not exposed to the dust and smoke from the collapse of the twin towers.

OSHA officials declined to comment on their pronouncements in the days after 9/11. The EPA responded that “it is clear that some things could have been done better. Our focus every day since 9/11 has been on working to improve and expand our capacity to respond to emergencies.”

ProPublica’s conclusions were based on an examination of documents, available here, that were obtained through Freedom of Information requests by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a labor union health group.

Congress approved $4.3 billion last year to treat and compensate people with health issues related to ground zero dust.

STUART SILVERSTEIN

 

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2 comments to “Documents Suggest Officials Downplayed Risks to Workers After 9/11”

  1. Trevor Smith

    Since a single particle can cause Mesothelioma, there is no safe level of asbestos particle contamination. Many of the particles are invisible to the naked eye. Most of the asbestos probably blew away in the thermal cloud which covered the city.

  2. David Howard

    Google “radioactive mini-nuke fragments” … China Syndrome at the WTC … http://www.anonymousphysicist.com/

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