6.25.2007

W's 1st Disaster: The Slow Death of Ground Zero Workers

The Iraq War, Katrina and immigration reform are but a few of the items on the Bush administration's long record of failures. However, among its most horrific mistake was its handling of the debris pile at ground zero.

The collapse of the towers triggered a Chernobyl-like explosion of toxins, including: thousands of tons of asbestos, lead, chromium, benzene, PCBs, dioxins, highly-caustic cement dust and hundreds of other dangerous substances. And the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency allowed rescue workers, downtown employees and residents to be exposed to the lethal soup.

Christie Whitman, former head of the EPA, assured New Yorkers at the time that "their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink." Since then thousands have become ill. Some have died and the prognosis for many is not good.

Actually, anyone in the region exposed to the plume of toxins is in jeopardy. Consider the early data from the Mount Sinai Medical Center's World Trade Center health study (see Stephen Smith's 9/11's Lingering Cloud, CBSNews - 6.20.07): Of the 70,000 people taking part in the Center's study, 85 percent are suffering some kind of respiratory problem.

Sadly, that's probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Six years later, the US Congress takes up the environmental management of the pile.

Christie Whitman and the Bush administration will be asked to account for what is perhaps the administration's first (and unaided) example of deadly incompetence.

Read Damning questions Whitman must be made to answer (by Juan Gonzalez, NYDailyNews - 6.25.07)

Update: Christy Whitman is still before the congressional panel answering questions, but she's already made it clear that the bulk of the fault for workers not using respirators lies with Mayor Rudy Giuliani's administration. She claims that EPA or the feds simply didn't have direct control over the clean-up site. She did add that in the Pentagon clean-up workers were mandated to wear protection. However, in a telling bit of video-footage at ground zero Christy Whitman herself is seen not using a respirator.