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Carl Pope

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Field Notes Archive

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Carl Pope's Field Notes

Why Would They Lie About This?
24, 2004

Last week I stood on the steps of New York's City Hall for the release of a report the Sierra Club prepared on how the Bush administration mishandled the public health crisis that followed the attack on the World Trade Center. Suzanne Mattei, our New York City Executive, spent the past year digging into public health records, using the Freedom of Information Act and extensive personal interviews with police, fire and rescue personnel, area office workers, and residents to determine what the administration knew about the public health threat created by Ground Zero pollution (including asbestos, glass fibers, toxic benzene, and other vapors), when it knew, and what it did with that knowledge. The results are grim reading.

"There's been a lot of controversy about what should have been done to prevent the attack on the World Trade Center," I explained to a huge assemblage of reporters. "There shouldn't be any controversy about what should have been done after the attack. The government should have told us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It should have done everything it could to find out what the health risks were to those exposed to the fumes. It should have done everything it could to enable them to protect themselves. And it should have done everything necessary to help them deal with the health consequences that followed. The Bush administration did absolutely none of these things."

I was followed by Suzanne and by the people who should have been protected by their government and were not. John Graham, a former EMT worker, showed the media the oxygen bottle he carried on September 11 to help the survivors. He now carries the oxygen bottle every day to combat an array of respiratory problems and to keep himself alive in what he calls "a living hell."

Joe Pollette, a local resident, told us "Because the government refused to conduct comprehensive testing inside area buildings following the collapse of the World Trade Center, we will never know the extent and nature of the contaminants to which people were exposed as they heeded false safety assurances and returned to their homes and offices."

Worse, Suzanne has discovered that the cover-up of public health risks that occurred at the World Trade Center has now been embodied as official Bush administration policy in any future, similar attack. Under the Administration's new emergency planning documents, prepared by both the Department of Homeland Security and OSHA, the same procedures that created a clearly avoidable secondary public health disaster in lower Manhattan, after September 11, will be repeated: Public health officials and scientists will not be allowed to communicate the full picture to the public; there will be no effort to ensure that workers on the site are appropriately protected; victims will be left to cope with their own medical complications afterward.

Here's how Newsday summarized our report. (The only major media missing in action was the New York Times, which has deliberately downplayed this story.)

"The Bush administration misled the public about the health hazards of the smoke and dust at Ground Zero, a new report says.

"The Sierra Club report blames the thousands of cases of long-term respiratory illness among New Yorkers on the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for downplaying the health risks and shirking their regulatory oversight roles.

"EPA officials, the report says, urged financial district workers to return to their jobs, repeatedly claiming the air was safe, using outdated testing gear and limited test results. The reassuring message didn't substantially change as the months dragged on, the report said.

"At the same time, concerns were being raised by independent researchers. The EPA's own researchers also noted concerns, but their studies never made it into the agency's public statements. The results were published only much later in scientific journals."

And why, according to the Bush administration, did they cover all this up? Because, they said, if they had told the people of New York the truth, they might have "panicked." New York is big enough to handle the truth. Is the government?

Our full report can be found at URL: www.sierraclub.org/groundzero