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2004-03-11

NYC Residents Sue EPA For Lying After 9/11

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New York City workers and residents are suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to protect people from the poor air quality in the days and weeks following the World Trade Center attacks, accusing then-EPA head Christine Todd Whitman of "a shockingly deliberate indifference to human health." [includes transcript]

New York City workers and residents in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn are suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to protect people from the poor air quality in the days and weeks following the World Trade Center attacks.

The class-action suit accuses then-EPA head Christine Todd Whitman of "a shockingly deliberate indifference to human health."

The suit seeks unspecified damages, including reimbursement for cleanup costs and the creation of a fund to finance health monitoring for people exposed to trade center dust.

The EPA said in a statement that it had not been able to review the lawsuit and could not comment on it. But the statement added "It is important to note that EPA staff performed remarkable feats in the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse under the most trying of circumstances," including air monitoring and cleaning of homes.

Last August, an investigation by the EPA’s inspector general revealed that the White House pressured EPA officials to downplay the health hazards caused by the World Trade Center collapse which included the extensive presence of asbestos from the two buildings, toxic dioxins floating in the downtown air, and increased amounts of lead found in the atmosphere.

If the case goes to trial, attorneys for the plaintiffs could force Whitman and other EPA officials to testify under oath.

Meanwhile researchers from Stony Brook University in New York announced on Monday that they have found a significant increase in the number of asthma clinic visits for children living in Chinatown near ground zero.

One of the researchers, Dr. Anthony Szema, said "The question that remains to be answered is: Are these kids going to need more visits to doctors and more medications for the rest of their life?"

And tonight the Sierra Club of New York and the group 9/11 Environmental Action are planning to stage protests today over the Bush Administration and EPA’s handling of the 9/11 cleanup.

The groups are demonstrating in East Meadow, Long Island today where Bush will be attending the groundbreaking of Nassau County’s Sept. 11 memorial.

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Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALES: Welcome, Joel.

JOEL KUPFERMAN: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It is good to have you with us. Explain this lawsuit. The lawsuit of the residents of Ground Zero versus the EPA.

JOEL KUPFERMAN: The basis of the lawsuit is that the EPA gave misinformation, not enough information to the residents and the workers of downtown Manhattan and the surrounding Area. Basically telling us that it was safe to go back, knowing full well that there was many violations of OSHA and EPA rules and regulations. Especially the fact that over 1% of asbestos was found in many, many places, and yet they told them go back, go back to your apartments and we’ll do a clean-up, and the clean-up has really proved to be not only ineffective, but leaving people in danger for their health. And as results are coming in now from hospitals, we’re learning that this problem is not going away, as the EPA would wish to have it.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you briefly describe the people you represent? How are they affected? How was their health affected?

JOEL KUPFERMAN: Many of them have respiratory problems, respiratory disorders. They’re getting occupational asthma cases, bronchitis, and a list of, you know, other respiratory problems. But we’re also concerned about the problems that will take a while to show up, asbestos. We don’t know how many are being affected. But we do know there’s been definitely ineffective monitoring that’s been going on.

JUAN GONZALES: And you filed it as a class-action suit so potentially thousands of people could be included in a claim if you are successful.

JOEL KUPFERMAN: That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: I understand tonight there is going to be protest by the Sierra Club, and 9-11 environmental action staging protests today over the Bush Administration and EPA’s handling of the environmental clean-up. President Bush is in New York today in Bay Shore, Long Island. They’re going to be protesting East Meadow, where he is attending the ground-breaking of Nassau County September 11th memorial.

JOEL KUPFERMAN: It’s so ironic we’re meeting right now in an old fire house. Since 9-11, I’ve become the environmental attorney for the fire-fighters union, and they faced most of the — much of the damage. And we know from following them how much medical problems they’re having. Over 500 have retired already with disabilities. But the interesting thing is we forced the EPA to do a residential clean-up, and yet they left the fire houses out of the clean-up. We asked them please, these guys faced the most, clean up their houses, and they answered that — they admitted that they lived there, but they also worked there. And on that ground, they have yet to clean up the fire houses.

JUAN GONZALES: And in terms of the culpability of Christine Whitman and the EPA, what do you think is the strength of your lawsuit? In terms of what’s actually already come out?

JOEL KUPFERMAN: We have conflicting statements. They had admissions and then went back on their word and they admitted certain —

AMY GOODMAN: And you have the memo of the White house, Juan that you reported on the secret memo telling them —

JUAN GONZALES: Right. And that the inspector general’s report came out, in terms of the involvement of the White House in directly telling the EPA to tone down and to minimize potential health hazards.

AMY GOODMAN: Encouraging people to go back to work.

JUAN GONZALES: James Connaughton, the chief of the Environmental Quality Council for the White House, and the memos that went back and forth between him and other EPA officials.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan, we have to leave it there. But I also — you said it very minimally, you were involved in reporting on this. Juan Gonzalez did the ground-breaking exposé right after September 11 on the environmental contaminants at Ground Zero, and congratulations for that, and your book Fallout, and everyone should read it. I also want to say if Bush goes a little further down the road from Bay Shore to Stony Brook, that is where the researchers have just come out with their report in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, saying that the collapse of World Trade Center had clinical consequences for children with asthma, and they’re seeing a large number of kids at Ground Zero, Chinatown clinics coming in for asthma, far more than did before. That’s it for today’s show. Thanks so much to Joel Kupferman, the attorney who is suing EPA.

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