Volume 21, Number 1 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | May 16 - 22, 2008
Downtown’s health & safety abandoned
With a president who admits to breaking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and who reserved his torture options while signing an anti-torture bill into law, perhaps it is no longer shocking to some when his government disregards the law. It is shocking, or at least it should be.
As we report this week, President Bush’s Dept. of Health and Human Services is not planning to pay for the 9/11-related health care treatment to residents, office workers and students that he authorized at the end of last year when he signed a budget bill into law. Instead of negotiating a compromise or vetoing a bill with provisions he did not like, he signed it under the apparent belief that he and H.H.S. could get away with ignoring the parts of the law that they didn’t like, such as spending $108 million on 9/11-related health care.
It fits into the administration’s pattern since 9/11 of disregard for the health of the people who live and work in Lower Manhattan.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s leader then, Christie Whitman, famously said the “air is safe to breathe” on Sept. 18, 2001, even though she did not have the evidence to make the claim. We now know White House officials edited the E.P.A.’s scientific assertions, which had the effect of giving false assurances to the public.
As we reported last week, the Environmental Protection Agency does not appear to believe that protecting people from environmental hazards is a fundamental part of its mission. The E.P.A. has found dangerous levels of lead in 73 percent of the Downtown buildings it has tested as part of its 9/11 test and clean program, and 10 percent of the apartments. It has cleaned the areas where it has found lead, but has done nothing about the source of the hazard, lead-based paint, nor has it warned the many residents in these buildings who did not participate in the E.P.A. program that their young children in particular may be at risk for brain damage because of lead exposure.
E.P.A. officials seem relieved that the lead does not appear to be from the World Trade Center collapse. Its spokesperson claimed to us that the E.P.A. was passing on the list of lead building addresses to the city Health Dept., but then admitted it had not. The Health Dept. said if it got the addresses, it would work with landlords to correct the problem.
The E.P.A. cites privacy concerns as to why it is sitting on information about potential dangers. While we suspect this is simply a pretext for doing nothing, it is clear to us that whatever privacy concerns there are in this matter do not trump issues of public safety.
It is not certain that residents and workers who were not on the “pile” but near the W.T.C. seven years ago are suffering health problems as a result. Indisputable proof of that may never come, and if it does, it will be many years from now. But it’s clear now that doctors at highly respected medical institutions like Mount Sinai and Bellevue -- who have examined thousands of people exposed to the W.T.C. dust and air -- and at the city Health Dept. believe there is ample evidence of 9/11 ailments.
The E.P.A. has had to be pressured at almost every instance since 9/11 to do the right thing. The agency must act in the public interest and get the information out about potential lead dangers. Health and Human Services should abandon the E.P.A.’s approach and instead act humanely by obeying the law.