The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

How the government handled the clean-up after 9-11:
A warning to the victims of Hurricane Katrina

Sep 12, 2005

The part of the Gulf coast devastated by Hurricane Katrina is the petrochemical heart of the U.S. economy. It is laced by oil and gas wells, pipelines, refineries, petrochemical plants – and at least 400 toxic waste dumps that are so dangerous and vast, the government has designated them to be super fund sites. There is no doubt that the more than 20-foot storm surge from the hurricane and subsequent flooding caused enormous numbers of dangerous chemicals from the industrial infrastructure to leak into the air and water, as well as the toxic waste dumps to leach their poisons into the water.

Yet, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has very carefully downplayed the potential hazards, allowing millions of people to be exposed to a very dangerous mix of industrial chemicals, taking only idle measures to protect themselves. It is all but certain that, in the months and years to follow, countless numbers of people will come down with an array of ailments. Young people, whose growing bodies more quickly absorb these chemicals, are the most vulnerable and susceptible to get sick – and never get well.

This is a replay on a far vaster scale of how the U.S. government handled the clean-up of lower New York City after the attacks of 9-11 and the collapse of the twin towers.

The collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) released a lethal cloud of debris. Concrete, glass, asbestos, plastics, mercury and lead were pulverized into fine dust. Rising above fires that burned for three months was also smoke filled with these poisons. Yet, within days of the attacks, the EPA had declared the air around the WTC "safe" to breathe. The agency did nothing to protect people from what amounted to a massive chemical spill. Neither did any other government agency or company. As a result, clean-up workers, who spent months sifting through rubble, employees in the area who returned to work after a couple of weeks, and residents who returned home were all exposed to not just one dangerous chemical, but multiple chemicals.

Almost immediately, people's health began to suffer.

The clean-up workers began to come down with coughs, wheezing, throat irritation, chest pain. Last September, the Mount Sinai Medical Center released data from its 9-11 medical-screening program, which has tested more than 14,000 first responders and volunteers. The center reported that 88% suffered from at least one WTC-related ear, nose or throat symptom. Over half endured respiratory ailments for months.

Few studies have been done of the residents who returned to their homes. But in 2003, researchers examining 205 asthmatic children found that those who live within five miles of the WTC site endured more bouts, requiring more doctor visits and medicines. That year, researchers surveyed 2,812 residents and determined that half of them living within a mile of ground zero had developed respiratory trouble. Neither has the government undertaken any studies of the enormous workforce that soon returned to work. But many workers in the area have also told newspapers that after returning to work, they experienced chronic health problems that they didn't have before, respiratory problems, infections.

Even to this day, most of the apartments and office buildings surrounding ground zero have not been thoroughly cleaned of this dust, so people are still breathing and touching it!

In a revealing report released August 2003, the EPA inspector general admitted that the White House had instructed the EPA not to issue health warnings about ground zero. Obviously, this was a cold-blooded decision made by the government so companies could make more profit at the expense of the health of the workers and residents.

Most people are not aware of all this, because the government and news media have done their best to avoid exposing it. But if this is how the government and corporations endangered people's lives in New York, which was so much in the spotlight for so long, imagine how much freer they feel to take measures that endanger the health and lives of the people of the Gulf region after Hurricane Katrina.