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Documents Show Feds Downplayed Ground Zero Health Risks

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Posted on Sep 11, 2011
FEMA News / Andrea Booher

Workers attempt to clear debris at the World Trade Center site on Sept. 13, 2001.

By Anthony DePalma, ProPublica

(Page 2)

In an email dated Sept. 20, for example, John Henshaw, OSHA’s chief administrator, said he had received a phone call from Thernstrom warning that several senators were asking questions about how OSHA was cooperating with the EPA at ground zero. In response, Henshaw directed his staff to gather details deflecting such concerns.

“I would like to have the information at hand before any inquiries come in, to nip any criticism in the bud,” Henshaw wrote. “They have a history of taking pot shots at us and if we can respond quickly, in a positive, strong, well thought out way, we may take some wind out of there [sic] sails.”

In several instances, the documents show, officials offered assurances about air quality before they even had test results or downplayed the degree of the contamination found.

Early on Sept. 13, a day and a half after the World Trade Center towers collapsed, Thernstrom called OSHA’s New York office to say Whitman was on her way to the city to talk to reporters about the agency’s air testing “since all monitoring reports have been so positive thus far,” according to an OSHA email.

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But according to its own records, the EPA had only tested a handful of asbestos samples before Sept. 14 and didn’t get the results of tests for other contaminants until Sept. 23.

A joint press release put out by the EPA and OSHA said dust samples taken from cars and buildings on Sept. 13 had asbestos levels “slightly above” the 1 percent level at which federal regulations apply. The new documents, however, specify that the samples contained 2.1 to 3.3 percent asbestos—or 200 percent to 300 percent higher than the trigger standard.

“These documents confirm that what happened at the World Trade Center is that we proceeded with a minimalist approach in terms of caution and never really scaled it up as it became necessary, rather than assuming the worst-case scenario and scaling it back as appropriate,” said David M. Newman, a workplace safety expert with NYCOSH.

Newman started filing public information requests several years ago to better understand how federal, state and city agencies made decisions affecting worker safety at ground zero. NYCOSH advocates for worker safety, in partnership with environmental and health groups, workers’ rights organizations and unions whose members worked on the cleanup. (ProPublica is making the full set of documents obtained by NYCOSH available for examination. We have created a page that lets you search through these records.)

One batch of documents obtained by NYCOSH significantly amplifies a White House intervention described more generally in the 2003 Inspector General report. Within days of the twin towers’ collapse, when the air was heaviest with asbestos and dioxin, a warning that office workers in New York’s Financial District might be at risk if they returned to their workplaces was removed from public statements at the request of the Council on Environmental Quality.

The original draft of the release that was going to be issued by the EPA and OSHA said “higher levels of asbestos” had been found in seven samples taken by OSHA on Water Street in the Financial District. The Inspector General’s office examined inter-agency emails and found that after the White House reviewed the draft and suggested revisions, the information about Water Street was removed, as was this warning to office workers: “The concern raised by these samples would be for workers at the cleanup site and for those workers who might be returning to their offices on or near Water Street.”

The newly released documents show that, in place of the caution about Water Street, office workers were urged to return to work on Monday, Sept. 17. “Our tests show it is safe for New Yorkers to go back to work in New York’s financial district,” OSHA’s administrator says in the final version of the release.

Officials seemed to be sending two distinct messages: telling office workers and residents the air was safe, while repeatedly warning first responders and crews working right on the debris pile to wear protective gear. Those conflicting assurances and warnings given by federal officials left workers and residents unsure what steps to take to protect themselves.

Critics have accused officials of not leveling with the public about what they knew and didn’t know in the aftermath of the attacks.

In July 2002, for instance, it was revealed that, despite assurances by EPA and OSHA officials, harmful dust remained on Wall Street well after it reopened because vacuum trucks had initially used the wrong filters.

The new documents show that in 2003 an investigator with the Inspector General’s office asked Tina Kreisher, the EPA’s chief spokeswoman on 9/11, whether she or anyone else at the agency considered acknowledging the misstep. Kreisher said she could not remember whether such a discussion had taken place.

Kreisher could not be reached for comment. In her interview with the Inspector General’s office, she acknowledged that the EPA’s choices reflected a conscious effort to reassure the public. “The emphasis came from the administration and the White House.” she said.

Federal officials also opted not to sound alarms even after tests registered unprecedented levels of dioxin at and around ground zero, the NYCOSH documents show.


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anaman51's avatar

By anaman51, September 15, 2011 at 5:22 pm Link to this comment

This is just the skin on the grapefruit. I don’t think America could stand to see the real list of all the things our government has lied to us about, either by lying outright or by omission. It would scare the bejeezus out of most of us. Consider that our “benevolent” government has NEVER told us the entire truth about a damn thing, and never will. Our entire history is just a long list of coverups. Does your congressperson lie? Are his or her lips moving?

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By berniem, September 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm Link to this comment

Mr. President, don’t you think that it’s time to start “looking backward” and investigating the bush cabal for ALL of the crimes that they committed both foreign and domestic? New revelations RE: high level Saudi involvement with the perpetrators as well as what is detailed in this article should give you pause and spur a revision of your previously wrongheaded decision to “look forward” rather than pursuing your constitutional responsibilties! You have imprisoned BRADLEY MANNING for exposing war crimes but have allowed wrongdoers to evade accountability and brought shame and ridicule on this nation and yourself by not living up to your campaign promises to change this nation’s direction. I hope that you see your way clear to right your course as your presidency thus far has been a disaster!

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By pupmom, September 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Japan didn’t tell the truth.

BP pertaining to the Gulf Oil Spill didn’t tell the truth.

This ruination of trust & faith continues across the globe, in any language, on every given day we (the people) loose more faith in our future.

We are fools to believe anything or believe “in” anything told to us. So sad so disheartening.

Truth & honesty no longer rings from their lips.

Why the surprise?

Time is running out.

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BR549's avatar

By BR549, September 15, 2011 at 12:26 pm Link to this comment

Ask yourself why Corexit, touted as a oil spill dispersant, would have chromium, arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium in its “special” formula. That’s because it was designed as a way to dump industrial wastes and had little or nothing to do with acting as a surfactant in breaking up the oil, whether with the exxon Valdez or the Deep Water Horizon.

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By M.J., September 15, 2011 at 11:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

AE911Truth.org See their latest video.  A shocker with evidence undeniable.

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By Laura Nason, September 15, 2011 at 7:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Those of us paying attention KNEW all this right from the start. WE knew those workers were not properly protected but those miniscule numbers of people who spoke up were systematically ignored while Guilli9/11ani and those higher up than his sorry behind continued to pump out the lies to “save money”.
Now, the same thing happened to the BP clean up crews and the people who live closest to the worst of the spill damage. Stands to reason that 10 years from now we will suddenly “discover” all the hidden dangers of breathing the contaminated air of the Gulf, eating seafood with oil/corexit cocktails having to be cleaned from inside their shells and innards, though I suspect the government will continue to send out flyers reports, allowing as how all that is perfectly safe to eat and we just MUST NOT stop eating seafood because the “industry” will be harmed. No, we just have to poison your kids rather than take a single nickel from the likes of BP, Exxon/Mobile etc., though for those teabaggers that worship your teabag masters screaming for NO regulation on these slime, maybe shrinking the teabag gene pool might be a good thing, but it should be YOU instead of your children who pay the piper. They can still learn the difference.
Here’s an example! Dr. Oz, on HLN a little while ago reported having had several brands of apple juice tested in certified labs, finding arsenic in most of them, in amounts higher than the supposedly amount allowed by EPA to be in drinking water. EPA immediately claimed that none of those labs was a sanctioned by them lab and therefore were not to be believed. Well experience has shown that EPAs own “sanctioned” labs have a clear incentive and proven track record of saying whatever their polluter controlled bosses tell them to say at any given time.
So sometime around 2019 expect to hear all the dirt on the oil pollution and all the sick, dying, and dead men, women and children, some of whom are already sick, dying or dead, and how we were lied to once again while those who are supposed to “protect the public”, instead, covered up for the men with the money.
NOTHING is ever going to change until these things begin to affect the money men but THEY don’t deserve “protecting”.
How many have heard there’s a new spill in the Gulf of Mexico? So far I’ve seen a couple sentences about it. Nothing on tv.
I just don’t understand why this country has to spend hundreds of billions of dollars killing thousands and thousands of people for revenge, if even ONE American is killed in a foreign country but believes it’s perfectly OK if tens of thousands of Americans are killed, or maimed, every year, directly or indirectly right here on American Soil just so long as the money men MAKE BIGGER PROFITS.

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By golric, September 15, 2011 at 6:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Asbestos in those quanities costs a fortune to remove . But , I think something more sinester is involved . Active Thermetic Materials (Nano Thermite or Thermate)used in the Demolition (insurance fraud)of the Trade Center Buildings might be eating the flesh of the First Responders lungs . But NIST never bothered to check for explosives , did they ? Is this why survivors have to be put through an FBI (cover-up) interrogation before they can be treated ? 10 frickin years later and we’re still killing the wrong people for the crime of 9/11 . We need a new investigation with torture involved . Start with bush administration officials who believe in torture (cheney). Move on to larry silverstien and sivan kurtzberg (high fiver). Get some answers ! Anyone who believes the official story has got a screw loose in their grey matter or have never looked at any of the forensic evidence of the Crime . Well , I suggest that you do look at it with a slightly open mind . I know it’s hard for some and impossible for others but it needs to be done. It wasn’t Muslims with box cutters !

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BR549's avatar

By BR549, September 15, 2011 at 4:58 am Link to this comment

This was downplayed the same way as the whole issue of the involvement of factions within our own government in 9/11 going back before Reagan. Oliver North and his ilk; it goes back even before them, so as much as I think that Bush the Idiot was an absolute moron and that Obama is a just a lawn jockey marionette for the banks, the power grab goes WAY back. It goes back to the early 1800’s when England contorted its influence so that the Rothschild controlled banks would win after all, so far that the average person can’t get a handle on how to deal with it.

Sadly, most people, rather than try to become educated about these matters, gravitate to a Barcolounger with a six pack to watch another stupid ball game.

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By jltnol, September 13, 2011 at 8:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Every statement I made was based on what experts, who had a great deal of
experience in these things, conveyed to me.”

Why can’t ANYONE in the Bush Administration take responsibility for anything they
have done?

What Whitman is saying is that if she made statements that were misleading or
blatantly not true, then it’s really NOT her fault!

Kind of like Bush & Cheney saying that the intelligence(we chose to believe and not
the intelligence we chose to ignore) said Hussain had WMD’s.

They buck stops not with me, but with the person in front of me!

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By Dave L., September 13, 2011 at 8:56 am Link to this comment

How was Larry Silverstein supposed to make Billions from insurance payouts if he was instead tasked with removing asbestos the old fashioned way?

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, September 12, 2011 at 9:49 pm Link to this comment

PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT AFOOT IN AMERICA

Morpheus: FIGHT THE CAUSE - NOT THE SYMPTOM

Hear, hear.

November 2012 is the moment. Power to the Progressives.

And lets get our buts out from behind a PC to militate in next year’s elections. Prove that democracy works in America - show the Plutocrats the door ...

Reference WikiP-links:
* The Congressional Progressive Caucus And here
* Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) - note particularly the PDA policy papers referenced, to get an idea of what progressive values are all about. Also, find out about the PDA movement in your state by clicking on the map below contained on the linked site.

The Progressive movement is afoot in America. Get informed. Join it where you can.

It’s a lot more effective than bitching-in-a-blog because it turns opinion into votes and votes are all that matter finally. The endemic political apathy at the grassroots must be overcome and they need a clear way forward.

NB: Only 48% of Americans cared enough to vote in last year’s midterm elections - which put us in the Mess we are today.

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By Morpheus, September 12, 2011 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment

What else is new. The question is, when are we going to stand up and fix our country.

I’m not afraid anymore!

The Revolution has started -
Read “Common Sense 3.1” at ( http://www.revolution2.osixs.org )

FIGHT THE CAUSE - NOT THE SYMPTOM

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By Michael Cavlan RN, September 12, 2011 at 12:46 pm Link to this comment

Keepyourheadsdown and truthdigger

I had the exact same problem.

Given their record of standing for free speech and in opposition to censorship, my first thought was

We Are Anonymous
We Are Legion
We Are Divided By Zero
We Do Not Forgive
We Do Not Forget
Expect Us

Just a thought. Man those people are frigging heroes.

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By keepyourheaddown, September 12, 2011 at 6:20 am Link to this comment

They will all go to hell, but first they should all be in prison,
US Government = LYING STUPID BASTARDS

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By truedigger3, September 12, 2011 at 5:46 am Link to this comment

Good people,

I cannot access Chris Hedges’ last article as of last night and ONLY that article. I can access anything else in truthdig. Is anybody else having the same problem?!

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By truedigger3, September 12, 2011 at 5:41 am Link to this comment

Good people,

Is there a problem in accessing Chris Hedges’ last article? I cannot access that article as of last night and ONLY that article. I can access anything else in truthdig.

Report this
Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, September 12, 2011 at 5:17 am Link to this comment

NO PRECAUTION

Yet another indictment of the deceitful Bush-Cheney regime. One can see Cheney’s “efficiency” writ large all over this decision.

Why the firefighters put up with it makes one wonder. The Twin Towers had been constructed with large amounts of asbestos now recognized as a key instigator of cancer. (See here.)

It is difficult to imagine why there was such a rush to clean-up the 911 debris that no thought was taken of precaution in the process.

Btw, since 911, medical costs for the firemen involved are assumed by the Federal Government. With the exception of one illness - that of cancer.

Do these firefighters, undeniably heroic, deserve to be treated in such an immoral manner? Not in the least.

BY THE WAY

The people who worked in those towers were also quite possibly victims of asbestos. It was considered “too costly” to remove the fireproofing.

According to EPA tests in the days just after 9/11 showed that the dust distributed over a several square miles about the towers contained 4% asbestos.

That level may be enough to provoke cancer in the future by those who breathed significant amounts of the asbestos-laced dust.

Read about the present US regulatory environment regarding asbestos in construction here.

In France, it is forbidden to use asbestos in any construction. And any construction that has employed asbestos in the past is condemned until it has been removed.

DOGMA

We, the sheeple, are being held hostage by the inanity of a “cheapest possible cost” mindset. Not to mention a political party that thinks the EPA should be scuttled because regulations “hurt business and destroy jobs”.

Yet again, more tedious dogma from the Rabid Right, whilst John Q. Public is left to assume the consequences of this healthcare time-bomb.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, September 12, 2011 at 3:25 am Link to this comment

Believe me there is enough liability to go around.
http://911research.wtc7.net/wtc/evidence/asbestos.html

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By Inherit The Wind, September 12, 2011 at 3:17 am Link to this comment

A Republican White House and Mayor LIED???????

Shocking! Unheard of!  Can’t be!

And this is a surprise?

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By Druthers, September 12, 2011 at 2:44 am Link to this comment

Down played?
Isn’t that an euphemism for lying?
Truth is now an “adjustment” of facts to control the population.
Soon anyone who disagrees with the official decree on any subject or presents facts contrary to the official version will be a “conspiracy theorist,” perhap even one of “them.”

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