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New documents: government knew Ground Zero air was toxic

This is bad. NYC’s CBS news station has obtained documents proving that the state and local governments knew they were sending residents and workers back to Wall Street, right into a hazardous situation that has resulted in debilitating illnesses for so many.

CBS 2 News has obtained documents revealing that Lower Manhattan was reopened a few weeks following the attack even though the air was not safe. The two devastating memos, written by the U.S. and local governments, show they knew. They knew the toxic soup created at Ground Zero was a deadly health hazard. Yet they sent workers into the pit and people back into their homes.

One of the memos, from the New York City health department, dated Oct. 6, 2001, noted: “The mayor’s office is under pressure from building owners … in the Red Zone to open more of the city.” The memo said the Department of Environmental Protection was “uncomfortable” with opening the areas but, “The mayor’s office was directing the Office of Emergency Management to open the target areas next week.”

…Another part of the memo noted: “The E.P.A. has been very slow to make data results available and to date has not sufficiently informed the public of air quality issues arising from this disaster.”

Actually, the E.P.A. didn’t even wait for data, as I said in my earlier post, then-head Christine Todd Whitman on September 18, 2001, represented that the air was safe to breathe, without any evidence to back up the claim.

And if Rudy Giuliani thinks this isn’t going to come back to haunt him as he sucks up to the fundies in anticipation of a 2008 presidential run, take a look at this bombshell — it should give him more agita.

What did the former mayor know about the air quality at Ground Zero and when did he know it?

An explosive memo from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to an associate commissioner at the city health department — dated October 5, 2001 — told the tale.

“This site … poses threats to workers related to potential exposure to hazardous substances,” the head of EPA’s Response and Prevention Branch wrote. The memo went on to list the hazardous substances, which included asbestos, refrigerants, hazardous wastes, ethylene and “products of combustion emitted from the long-burning fires.”

Just two days before EPA’s private memo to the Giuliani administration, the agency said publicly that the air quality in Lower Manhattan was safe. It’s a position the administration was still maintaining weeks later. “For residents and people who are working in the open area that has been created downtown, there is no realistic danger to health,” said Joel Miele on October 26, 2001. At the time, he was the city’s Commissioner of Environmental Protection.

…”The fact that the city knew that the air wasn’t safe and had a responsibility to protect us and didn’t do anything is a disgrace,” said fire union president Stephen Cassidy. “It was all about money and it wasn’t about the safety of first responders. Those people should be ashamed of themselves.”

Former Mayor Giuliani was not available for comment.

* The legacy of Bush EPA lies about toxic air at Ground Zero

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding