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The Planet
Toxic Fallout

Ground Zero Report Documents Deception by the Bush Administration

by Caroline Kraus

Former EMT worker John Graham stood on the steps of New York’s City Hall in August, gripping an oxygen bottle like the one he used to help survivors on September 11, 2001. Now, he said, he carries the same kind of bottle every day to keep himself alive in what he calls "a living hell."

Like a growing number of people in the city, Graham suffers from the effects of toxic post-9/11 air, a condition he might have been able to avoid had he known how dangerous the air was. Instead, the EPA issued the following assurance only weeks after the attack: "There is no reason for concern…the public is not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances."

Graham stood as living evidence to the contrary when he joined Sierra Club representatives at City Hall to help announce the Club’s report, "Pollution and Deception at Ground Zero." The report documents the Bush administration’s alarming trail of post-9/11 missteps, lies, and cover-ups, which resulted in greater exposures of many hundreds of ground zero workers and residents to harmful chemicals released by the World Trade Center collapse.

Prominent in the report is the added fact that the Bush administration has institutionalized its mishandling of post-9/11 communication, making its system of misinformation, cover-ups, and failures official policy for future disaster responses. This promises future post-disaster protocol such as: the suppression of health warnings, the issuing of false assurances, the elimination of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s role to protect the safety of "first responders" in national emergencies, and possibly even the lowering of toxic clean-up standards.

Suzanne Mattei, author of the report and Sierra Club New York City organizer, cites documents that the Sierra Club acquired under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as first-person interviews with fire and rescue personnel, workers and people who live near ground zero. Her conclusion is grim––that widespread public exposure to toxic pollution from the September 11 attack could have been prevented had the EPA and other governmental agencies not lied, withheld information, or discouraged residents and workers from wearing protective masks.

Furthermore, Mattei notes, the federal government’s failures cannot be "excused by ignorance, surprise, or emergency conditions" because the EPA statements and records show that it was fully aware that dangerous pollutants were still present in the ground zero area.

During the Republican convention, Sierra Club volunteers, residents and workers in the ground zero area participated in a daily vigil near the site to hold President Bush accountable for failing to protect public health in the aftermath of 9/11. The group called upon the president to meet the needs of the people exposed to ground zero pollution. The Sierra Club and its ground zero allies continue to work to educate the nation about the need for proper protection of public health in the wake of national emergencies.


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