Sierra Club releases report on environmental response to 9/11
By Albert Amateau and Josh Rogers
The Sierra Club issued a report on Wednesday charging that federal agencies misinformed Downtown residents and businesses about the hazards of air pollution from the World Trade Center attack and failed to take proper action to prevent exposure to toxic vapors and airborne particles.
The 200-page report that the environmental group issued at an Aug. 18 news conference on the steps of City Hall also contends that the Bush administration plans to include some of the procedures that failed to protect Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001 in its new national policy on future emergencies.
Weve learned a lot about these failures already but the new thing in the report is that federal procedures on future disasters will be the same as before, said Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, a long-time critic of government environmental response to the attack who attended the Sierra Club conference. The Environmental Protection Agency, FEMA and OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] have learned nothing.
Nadler said he believed people in Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn were being poisoned to this day, but when asked, he said he did not favor evacuating the areas. He repeated his call to have the E.P.A. begin a more stringent testing and cleanup program.
The Sierra Club contends that hundreds of people have had health problems attributable to pollution from the attack and that E.P.A. failed to find toxic hazards because it did not look for them. The club also contends that the White House Council on Environmental Quality provided misleading data on the 9/11 asbestos hazard in a letter to Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.
The report also recalled an E.P.A. Inspector General report in August of last year that the White House environmental quality council blocked health risk information that the E.P.A. wanted to release to the public after the 9/11 attack.
Indeed even after the E.P.A. launched an indoor clean-up program, it continued to assure residents that it was not really needed, the report says.
During the clean-up at ground zero, OSHA refused to enforce federal worker safety requirements, claiming it did not have authority in national emergencies. After the emergency period passed, OSHA still refused to enforce the rules even after ground zero safety was compromised, the report says.
Despite public warnings about the importance of wearing gas masks at the W.T.C. site, many workers were often seen without masks while the recovery and cleanup operation was underway.
For the future, the Bush administration is eliminating OSHAs enforcement role at national emergency sites, the report says. Under a new National Emergency Management Plan, OSHA will provide only technical assistance.
The administration is also contemplating emergency clean-up standards that are weaker than standards for Superfund clean-up sites, the report says.
The Sierra Club recommends a new clean-up of W.T.C. dust for residential and commercial buildings, including firehouses, emergency vehicles and equipment. Long-term medical monitoring and treatment is also needed. Moreover, the group wants the government to publicly censure the White House environmental quality council official who toned down the health warnings that E.P.A. wanted to issue after the attack.
A new E.P.A. panel, which was formed at the insistence of Sen. Clinton and which includes independent experts, is considering a plan to test buildings over a larger geographic area.
The Sierra report also says government should work with communities, institutions and environmental advocates to develop national emergency policies promoting truthfulness about health hazards. The Sierra Club also wants the government to maintain emergency clean-up standards and to drop plans to eliminate enforcement of safety standards for emergency workers.