9-11 health impact dispute: “We never lied,” Christine Whitman lies

It is a truly appalling spectacle to watch former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman and New York City officials pass the buck for the deadly 9-11 health fallout back and forth like a shuttlecock. Whitman said in a “60 Minutes” interview to be aired this weekend that the EPA did not have authority over the Ground Zero site, and claimed she provided an accurate assessment of the air quality following the attacks. She distinguished between the air in lower Manhattan, which was considered safe, and the air at Ground Zero, which was not. “The readings [in lower Manhattan] were showing us that there was nothing that gave us any concern about long-term health implications,” she said. “That was different from on the pile itself, at ground zero. There, we always said consistently, ‘You’ve got to wear protective gear.'” (AP, Sept. 8)

But this a bogus defense, given that she failed to make this rather critical distinction at the time. New York Newsday saves this Sept. 18, 2001 Whitman quote from the Memory Hole:

“We are very encouraged that the results from our monitoring of air quality and drinking water conditions in both New York and near the Pentagon show that the public in these areas is not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances. I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington DC that their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink.”

Yet she has the chutzpah to tell “60 Minutes”: “We never lied.” Ommission is a form of lying, Christine. Ask any lawyer.

Meanwhile, New York City legal counsel Michael Cardozo responded that “the City of New York did everything within its power to protect those who participated in the recovery effort.” Fortunately, Newsday also saves this Sept. 28, 2001 gem from the much-lionized Rudolph Giuliani, mayor at the time of the attacks, revealing him as perfectly complicit in the EPA’s cover-up:

“Although they occasionally will have an isolated reading with an unacceptable level of asbestos…it’s very occassional and very irsolated. The air quality is safe and acceptable.”

The dust-up comes days after a study of nearly 9,500 police officers, paramedics, construction workers and others who toiled at Ground Zero was released by physicians at Mount Sinai Medical Center. The study finds that seven out of 10 first responders and workers who were at Ground Zero suffer from chronic lung ailments that probably will be lifelong. The study represents the first scientific evidence linking Ground Zero dust and debris to health woes, vindicating doctors and patients who for years insisted the connection was undeniable.

The study focused mostly on so-called “World Trade Center cough,” the primary concern of health experts and advocates. Doctors at Mount Sinai also said they expect to find disproportionate cancer among the study’s participants in the years to come.

“There should no longer be any doubt about the health effects of the World Trade Center. Our patients are sick,” said Dr. Robin Herbert, co-director of the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program at Mount Sinai.

Herbert was joined at a news conference announcing the findings by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Reps. Jerold Nadler (D-Manhattan) and Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), and other officials, who said the federal government must respond with programs to cover the health-related costs of the sick workers. (Newsday, Sept. 6)

More info at 9-11 Environmental Action.

See our last report on how New York’s heroes are getting screwed.

  1. 9-11 environment
    I was a sales representative calling on several of the labs responsible for checking environemental safety post 9-11 and was told that there was a bad case of aspestos that was not being reported. I want to believe that many of the responsible agencies advised the workers of risk and to wear masks but I doubt that anyone was committed to exposing the depth of the risk.

  2. A strange irony
    The New York Times reported Aug. 25 that 9-11 dust was actually going on display in an exhibit at the city Historical Society:

    A 9/11 Shrine, With the Tragic, Toxic Dust

    It is always dangerous to disturb toxic dust, but this dust is historic, and possibly sacred. This week, a crew in hazard suits navigated a sealed bubble at the New York Historical Society to recreate an eerie time capsule of Sept. 11, 2001, as the fifth anniversary approaches…

    That same day, the Times also reported:

    E.P.A. Whistle-Blower Says U.S. Hid 9/11 Dust Danger

    by Anthony DePalma

    A senior scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency has accused the agency of relying on misleading data about the health hazards of World Trade Center dust.

    The scientist, who has been sharply critical of the agency in the past, claimed in a letter to members of the New York Congressional delegation this week that test reports in 2002 and 2003 distorted the alkalinity, or pH level, of the dust released when the twin towers collapsed, downplaying its danger.

    Some doctors suspect that the highly alkaline nature of the dust contributed to the variety of ailments that recovery workers and residents have complained of since the attack.

    Tests of the gray-brown dust conducted by scientists at the United States Geological Survey a few months after the attack found that the dust was highly alkaline, in some instances as caustic or corrosive as drain cleaner, and capable of causing severe irritation and burns.

    The tests that are being challenged by the E.P.A. scientist were conducted by independent scientists at New York University. Those tests also indicated that larger particles of dust were highly alkaline. But they found that smaller dust particles — those most likely to reach into the lower airways of the lungs, where they could cause serious illnesses — were not alkaline and caustic.

    The geological survey’s tests did not differentiate the dust by particle size.

    A spokeswoman for the agency, Mary Mears, said in a statement that the E.P.A. stood behind its work on ground zero environmental hazards, as did the N.Y.U. scientists. The scientist making the complaint, Cate Jenkins, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry and works in the agency’s office of solid waste and emergency response, said the test results helped the E.P.A. avoid legal liability. Residents of Lower Manhattan have sued the agency in federal court, claiming that it bungled the cleanup.

    Dr. Jenkins said the test reports had a costly health effect, contributing “to emergency personnel and citizens not taking adequate precautions to prevent exposures.”

    In her statement, Ms. Mears distanced the agency from Dr. Jenkins, who has worked for the E.P.A. since 1979 and has been in conflict with the agency for years over her whistle-blowing activities.

    “Dr. Jenkins has not participated in any aspect of the E.P.A.’s work on the World Trade Center,” the statement said. “This appears to be a disagreement about scientific methods and not the validity of the results.” The New York University scientists, who were not directly financed by the E.P.A., denied being pressured by the agency and said Dr. Jenkins’s claims were without scientific merit.

    Representative Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat whose district includes Lower Manhattan, received a copy of Dr. Jenkins’s letter, and he said that he intended to look into the dispute.

    “When a scientist who works for the E.P.A. makes serious allegations about the aftermath of 9/11, they must be examined carefully,” he said.

    The two scientists named in Dr. Jenkins’s letter are faculty members of the New York University School of Medicine who collected dust samples from ground zero in the days after the attack.

    One of them, George D. Thurston, is director of N.Y.U.’s Community Outreach and Education Program. He has helped inform Lower Manhattan workers and residents about health hazards related to the terror attack.

    Testifying before a Senate committee in 2002, Dr. Thurston said that more than 95 percent of the dust was composed of comparatively large particles that were highly alkaline. He said that although they were irritating, those dust particles did not pose serious health concerns for residents because they were too large to enter the lower airways of the lungs.

    Smaller particles, those less than 2.5 microns in size, are far more dangerous because they can be easily breathed deep into the lungs. Dr. Thurston told the Senate committee that tests showed those particles to be pH neutral, and therefore of less concern.

    A year later, the same scientists, in conjunction with the E.P.A., among others, published a report in Environmental Health Perspectives, a professional journal, in which they described a new round of tests in which they found the smallest dust particles to have pH values from 8.8 to 10, which made them alkaline.

    To keep the particles in the samples from congealing, however, they used a standard process that involved freeze-drying and soaking the samples in saline. When pH tested, the particles were then found to be “near neutral.”

    Lung-Chi Chen, the second N.Y.U. scientist, an inhalation toxicologist with N.Y.U.’s School of Medicine who was responsible for the testing, said the saline could not have diluted the alkalinity of the samples so greatly that they went from alkaline to neutral.

    “We were not trying to mislead anyone,” he said.

    Dr. Chen said the samples tested prior to Dr. Thurston’s 2002 Senate testimony and those in the 2003 report came from different batches of dust, which probably accounted for the difference in their alkalinity.

    He said he was not surprised that the smaller dust particles had characteristics and alkalinity levels different from the larger ones. He explained that the larger particles were made up of building materials that had been pulverized by the pressure of the imploding towers. The smallest particles, he said, were probably a combination of crushed material and the combustion byproducts produced by high-temperature fires that burned for weeks.

  3. Air quality?
    Air quality? Does that term even exists nowadays? I am very skeptical about it. We see daily mass media coming up with new forms of diseases caused by air pollution. We are still in the middle of a high dispute concerning lung cancer and mesothelioma, these things are not that easy to ignore and this is why I am not willing to believe every word.
    Asbestos Mesothelioma Legal Advice