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EPA, NYC Blamed for 9/11 Health Problems

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.forbes.com/home/feeds/ap/2006/09/08/ap3004093.html EPA, NYC Blamed for 9/11 Health Problems By DEVLIN BARRETT , 09.08.2006, 06:18 PM City and
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 8, 2006
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      http://www.forbes.com/home/feeds/ap/2006/09/08/ap3004093.html

      EPA, NYC Blamed for 9/11 Health Problems
      By DEVLIN BARRETT , 09.08.2006, 06:18 PM

      City and federal officials came under withering
      criticism Friday from lawmakers who charged that
      ground zero workers were not protected as they
      clambered over a smoking pile of toxic debris - and
      have not been properly cared for since.

      Former Environmental Protection Agency head Christie
      Todd Whitman was the most frequent target during a
      day-long House hearing about the health woes
      afflicting thousands of ground zero workers.

      Whitman stressed in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001,
      attacks that the air in lower Manhattan was safe,
      although she also said workers at the World Trade
      Center site needed to use protective breathing gear.
      In a "60 Minutes" segment to be aired Sunday, she said
      the responsibility for offering such gear to workers
      lay with the city.

      Whitman is being sued over her public assurances, and
      she was accused Friday of doing too little to protect
      workers.

      Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., who chaired the
      hearing, said Whitman's September 2001 statements
      "defied logic and everybody knows that."

      Whitman defended herself Friday, insisting that it was
      up to local authorities to make sure rescue workers
      wore protective breathing gear.

      "We agreed then, and I reiterate now, that the air on
      the site was not clean ... We were emphatic that
      workers needed to wear respirators, a message I
      repeated frequently. But I did not have the
      jurisdiction to force workers to wear them - that was
      up to their superiors," Whitman said in a statement.

      City officials already under fire for their own role
      in the ongoing health problems disputed Whitman's
      claims.

      City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said the
      federal government was responsible for work safety at
      the site, and added that he did not think Whitman's
      post-Sept. 11 assurances were "an appropriate way to
      word the message."

      In a Sept. 13, 2001, press release, the EPA said the
      air around the disaster site was relatively safe. On
      Sept. 16, 2001, Whitman said that tests showed air
      pollution levels "that cause us no concern." Two days
      later, she said she was glad to reassure New York and
      Washington residents that their air and water were
      safe.

      Others appearing at the hearing before the House
      Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats,
      and International Relations, including Sen. Hillary
      Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., accused the EPA of lying to
      New Yorkers and endangering public health.

      At a separate event Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg
      defended the city's handling of the disaster, saying
      it distributed masks.

      "Nobody knew whether there would be health issues down
      the road, and they made the decisions that they
      thought were right at the time," said Bloomberg, who
      succeeded Rudolph Giuliani as mayor months after the
      attacks.

      Joe Lhota, Giuliani's former deputy mayor for
      operations, said in a statement Thursday, "The EPA
      publicly reported that the general air quality was
      safe, and the city repeatedly instructed workers on
      the pile to use their respirators."

      The hearing began with testimony from Joseph Zadroga,
      whose NYPD officer son died in January of respiratory
      disease attributed to ground zero exposure.

      Joseph Zadroga briefly lost his composure as he
      described the day he found James Zadroga dead on his
      bedroom floor. The father blasted the city for doing
      nothing while his son was sick, saying, "He was
      treated like a dog."

      Public pressure has been growing for the government to
      deal with health problems blamed on toxic dust at the
      site. This week Mount Sinai Medical Center released a
      study showing that nearly seven out of every 10 ground
      zero responders suffered lung problems.

      Dr. Robin Herbert, co-director of the New York
      hospital's program monitoring afflicted workers, told
      lawmakers that new patients are still arriving at
      Mount Sinai to be treated for 9/11-related illnesses -
      and thousands probably will need lifelong care.

      The Bush administration said it will continue to help
      sick Sept. 11 workers but would not say what their
      long-term health needs might cost.

      Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt
      told New York lawmakers Thursday that $75 million
      would be delivered in the next two months to pay for
      treatment programs.

      _

      Associated Press Writer Sara Kugler contributed to
      this report.
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