The story about the dangerous air and water problems in post-9/11 Manhattan is still unfolding, and Newsweek has published more troubling info in a web exclusive.

But first, lets take a look back...

One week after the WTC towers fell, Christie Whitman (then Chief of the EPA) declared that the air and water in New York were safe, and residents were urged to return to their homes and jobs in Manhattan. Two years later, Nikki Tinsley (the EPA's Inspector General) told NBC News that the EPA press release that sent New Yorkers back to those homes and offices "was surely not telling all of the truth."

From NBC News

So what happened? Tinsley's report charges, in the crucial days after 9/11, the White House changed EPA press releases to "add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones."

*Sept. 13: The EPA draft release -- never released to the public -- said: EPA "testing terrorized sites for environmental hazards." The White House changed that to EPA "reassures public about environmental hazards."

*Sept. 16: The EPA draft said: "Recent samples of dust ... on Water Street show higher levels of asbestos."

The White House version: "New samples confirm ... ambient air quality meets OSHA [government] standards" ... and "is not a cause for public concern."

And the White House left out entirely the warning "that air samples raise concerns for cleanup workers and office workers near Water St."

Now it turns out that the dust from the WTC attacks was even more toxic than researchers initially realized, and that a wide range of health problems have developed because of exposure to it.

John Graham is a carpenter with emergency medical technician training, and he was only a few blocks from the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. He immediately went down to Ground Zero, and his unique combination of carpentry and medical skills made him an asset there for more than nine months, where he continued to help in spite of his own mounting health problems.

John Graham was rarely ill before 9/11.

From Newsweek

Now Graham carries a bag full of medications around with him each day. He takes 17 different drugs for ailments ranging from asthma to chronic infections, and sees his doctor so often that he's had to ask the receptionist to call and remind him of upcoming appointments so he can keep track.


Doctors and researchers now believe that Graham is one of tens of thousands who suffer debilitating health problems stemming from their exposure to contaminants in the air around the World Trade Center site--and it's not just rescue and recovery workers who are affected. A report published this month in the journal "Environmental Health Perspectives" found that pregnant women who were inside the Twin Towers or within a 10-block radius at the time of the attacks showed a two-fold increase in the incidence of smaller-than-average infants compared to pregnant women in a demographically similar population who weren't in Manhattan on September 11.

...tens of thousands who suffer debilitating health problems...

The new health report is frightening on its own, but when combined with the fact that the Bush Administration outright lied to get people back into an environment that hadn't yet been proven safe...

What does the mind do when it has already been reeling? Reverse direction?

Graham did not use a respirator when he started work at the site, though he wore a mask later. Still, he says, he believed the air was safe after the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman declared it so a week after the attacks (a statement she has since been widely criticized for making). "The government lied to us," he says. "They said the air was clean."


"This was a life-changing event medically for people who were caught in the dust cloud--and probably tens of thousands were caught in that cloud," says Dr. Michael D Weiden, a medical officer for the Fire Department of New York who has treated hundreds of firefighters--many of whom suffer permanent disabilities. "There are hundreds who are no longer able to work," he says.

More heroes that were misled and ultimately betrayed by BushCo.

The article goes on to describe efforts to help these people, including the "Remember 9/11 Health Act," sponsored by New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in March. Additionally, proposed state legislation would "shift the burden of proof from the rescue workers to the compensation board..."

These are good things, but still leave the fundamental problem unaddressed. The current administration told the EPA to lie to New Yorkers, putting them in danger and subsequently causing tens of thousands of people to develop "debilitating illnesses."

It's not clear how many of those who were exposed to the contaminated air around Ground Zero have yet to come forward for treatment, but there is widespread agreement within the medical community that the number who are suffering lingering health problems from the September 11 attacks is greater than initially anticipated. Weiden, who treats the New York firefighters, says there's still "a large unmet need" and warns: "Some--or many--of those caught in the cloud will be in crisis if they don't understand what's going on.".

"It's much more serious than we initially realized," says Landrigan, the principal author of the study. "It took awhile to realize just how toxic this dust was."

It could take even longer still--Landrigan says the first related cancer cases may not appear for at least a decade--to realize just how serious the consequences will be for the thousands like Graham who were exposed to the dust.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Tue May 18, 2004 at 04:12 PM PDT.

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