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Context of 'September 16, 2001: EPA Misleads Public about Health Risks at WTC Site'

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Smoke from the WTC tower collapses covers lower Manhattan on the day of 9/11, and for days afterward.Smoke from the WTC tower collapses covers lower Manhattan on the day of 9/11, and for days afterward. [Source: ABC News/ Associated Press]The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) release a joint statement asserting that the air in downtown New York City is safe to breathe. “New samples confirm previous reports that ambient air quality meets OSHA standards and consequently is not a cause for public concern,” the agencies claim. [Environmental Protection Agency, 9/16/2001] However, the government’s statements are based on ambient air quality tests using outdated technologies. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/14/2002] Furthermore, it will later be learned that the press release was heavily edited under pressure from the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Critical passages in the original draft were either deleted or modified to downplay public health risks posed by contaminants that were released into the air during the collapse of the World Trade Center. [Environmental Protection Agency, 8/21/2003 pdf file; Newsday, 8/26/2003] In late October, the New York Daily News will obtain internal EPA documents containing information that had been withheld from the public. One document says that “dioxins, PCBs, benzene, lead, and chromium are among the toxic substances detected… sometimes at levels far exceeding federal levels.” [New York Daily News, 10/26/2001] Later, in October, it will be reported that thousands of rescue workers and residents are experiencing respiratory problems that experts attribute to the toxic smoke flume and ultra fine dust. [CNN, 10/29/2001; New York Post, 10/29/2001; Newsday, 10/30/2001; BBC, 10/31/2001]

Entity Tags: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), World Trade Center, Council on Environmental Quality, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11, 9/11 Timeline

Several government experts testify at a New York City Council meeting on environmental conditions following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. [New York Daily News, 11/1/2001] Kathleen Callahan, deputy regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), insists that New Yorkers living and working near the World Trade Center site are not in danger. “The vast majority of our tests find levels of these contaminants pose no significant long term health risks to residents, business employees and visitors beyond Ground Zero,” she says, repeating what earlier EPA statements have asserted. Downplaying the danger of those areas where higher asbestos levels have been found, she states—falsely (see April 18, 1989) (see October 3, 2001-March 1, 2004) —that “EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards are set many times below the level at which you would expect health impacts.” She advises New Yorkers who live or work in the affected areas to “follow the recommendations of the New York City Departments of Health and Environmental Protection on how to clean up properly (see September 17, 2001).” [Environmental Protection Agency, 11/1/2001] Another expert, Dr. Jessica Leighton, assistant city health commissioner for environmental risk assessment, similarly states that people living and working in Lower Manhattan have little to worry about. She says in response to a question whether or not “people are safe at the present level” of contamination: “As far as the science has shown us right now, that is absolutely correct.” Like Callahan, she claims that EPA standards are overly protective. “The standards or tolerance levels that are being used are very conservative,” she claims. “For example, for asbestos, we are using the standard that is used for indoor air quality for reentry into a school after asbestos removal, which is the most stringent standard, as the tolerance level or standard for outdoor air quality in the residential areas. This is also true for other substances, such as dioxins, identified at the perimeter of the site…. Moreover, these standards have been designed to include many safety factors so that acceptable levels of exposure are far below the levels at which health effects are expected to occur.” [New York City Department of Health, 11/1/2001] Joel Kupferman, executive director of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, questions the accuracy of Leighton’s and Callahan’s statements and accuses them of withholding some test results. [New York Daily News, 11/1/2001] Kathryn Freed, a New York City Council Member who represents Lower Manhattan, said she was not convinced by agency assurances, noting that firemen are already showing symptoms of emphysema, a terminal disease for which there is no cure. “Just because it doesn’t reach a certain level is really irrelevant when people are sick,” says Marc Ameruso, a member of the area’s community board. [New York Daily News, 11/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Kathryn Freed, Joel R Kupferman, Kathleen Callahan, Jessica Leighton, PhD.

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

James Zadroga, a detective who worked on the recovery effort at Ground Zero following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, dies. Zadroga was 34. According to the first report into his death, by the Ocean County medical examiner, Zadroga dies from a “history of exposure to toxic fumes and dusts.” This is apparently the first death following a long-term illness related to work at the WTC site. [New York Times, 4/12/2006]

Entity Tags: James Zadroga

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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