Report: Government's 9/11 Response Poses Long-Term Health Risks

As the third anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, there are still thousands of workers and New York City residents whose health may be at risk due to mistakes made in the aftermath of disaster byEPA and OSHA, according to a new report released by the Sierra Club.

"The safety and well-being of the people of New York were always, and remain, EPA's highest priority," commented EPA in a statement. "The Sierra Club's report uses scare tactics to frighten people who have already endured unimaginable tragedy. The American people should see this report for what it is: a blatant attempt to use this tragedy for political gain."

OSHA had no immediate comment.

Among the findings of the report, made public Aug. 18:

  • Many workers at and near Ground Zero did not have proper health and safety protection because OSHA did not enforce its standards, wrongly claiming it lacked the authority in national emergencies;
  • OSHA continued not to enforce safety and health rules long after the emergency had passed, and long after environmental health risks were apparent at Ground Zero;
  • EPA failed to find toxic hazards because it did not look for them, or did not look for them properly;
  • EPA failed at least 12 times to change its safety assurances as new information arose and after people were getting sick;

The Bush administration should have issued a health warning after the collapse of the twin towers, as it knew the health risks and ignored its own long-standing body of knowledge about the harmful products of incineration and demolition.

The Sierra Club called on President Bush to drop plans to eliminate enforcement of OSHA safety and health standards for response workers and to fund long-term medical monitoring, treatment and assistance for residents and workers made sick by the hazards.

"The Sierra Club's report is an incisive appraisal of the harmful actions committed by EPA and other federal agencies that have resulted in serious damage to the lives of first responders, residents and workers of Lower Manhattan in the aftermath of the World Trade Center Attack," commented Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the congressional representative for the Ground Zero area. "The report details how both by design and by neglect, the EPA responded in a contemptible and irresponsible manner to the unfolding environmental crisis, and how it continues to do so to this day."

Susan O'Brien, associate director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, commented on OSHA's decision not to enforce its regulations during rescue and recovery operations. "OSHA made the decision not to enforce federal safety and health regulations and thousands of Ground Zero workers are suffering from respiratory illnesses," she said. "Is there a connection? We believe so. And we don't want to see this situation repeated, should another disaster occur.'

The full Sierra Club report, as well as an executive summary, are available online at www.sierraclub.org/groundzero.

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