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Toxic EPA Corrosive Dust Standards Uncorrected a Decade after WTC

xxx“Sweet 14″ Fire House at 14 East 18th Street, Manhattan NYC

Whitman’s suppression of the NJ mercury issue a prequel to 9/11 response


[Update: Propublica story provides further documentation of exactly what I’ve been saying:  New Docs Detail How Feds Downplayed Ground Zero Health Risks

As another 9/11 remembrance plays out, we must again remind the public of the destructive role of former NJ Governor and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman. See:

A federal judge found that Whitman’s 9/11 response actions as EPA Administrator, specifically her statements – contradicting the data and EPA scientists’ recommendations –  that the air in southern Manhattan was safe to breath, “shocked the conscience”.

While Whitman was held publicly accountable for her 9/11 role, few realize that Whitman also set back efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions by over a decade via her reversal of the Clinton Administration’s legal conclusion that GHG were “pollutants” under the Clean Air Act. ( hit the links in this post for a detailed chronology and the EPA documents).

Whitman brought to EPA one of her NJ legal counselors, Bob Fabricant. Fabricant is the Bush EPA lawyer who wrote the legal opinion reversed by the US Supreme Court in the groundbreaking Massachusetts v. EPA case.

Fabricant argued for the big polluters, concluding that green house gases were not “pollutants” under the Clean Air Act and therefore could not be regulated by EPA. In an historic decision, the Supreme Court reversed Fabricant’s pro-industry analysis. (see Robert Fabricant’s August 2003 Memorandum denying that the EPA has authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. Download PDF.

Those destructive actions at EPA were entirely predictable for those who followed her record as NJ Governor.

During Whitman’s US Senate confirmation hearing to become EPA Administrator, we warned the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that Whitman’s motto as NJ Governor was “NJ is Open for Business”. (see page 120 – 132 of Whitman’s Senate hearing transcript).

We explained, in depth, exactly how that economic priority drove strongly anti-regulatory environmental policies, including a comprehensive strategy to provide “regulatory relief”.

In addition, Whitman also showed a disdain for science and public health. Whitman was deeply influenced by what she called the “Alar scare” (a prior EPA warning about risks of pesticide residue on apples, that led consumers to boycott apples and a $100 million loss to the food industry).

According to Wiki, “alar scare” was:

“shorthand among news media and food industry professionals for an irrational, emotional public scare based on propaganda rather than facts.”

Whitman saw chemical risks and public health warnings through the prism of the “alar scare“: as fear-mongering that harmed industry profits.

So, here’s what Whitman said to explain her rejection of DEP scientists recommendations and failure to issue fish consumption advisories after high levels of toxic mercury were found in NJ freshwater fish:

Before we put out advisories and scare people about what they can and can’t eat, let’s be sure we are talking about contaminant levels that are really hazardous to human health. Of course, the minute we find anything like that we will be out there very strongly with advisories. (Newark Star Ledger, 3/22/94)

Reflecting that view shaped by the “alar scare”, Whitman lied about the science – a scientific report and data had been submitted months before. Whitman then directed her DEP Commissioner to suppress the science and fail to warn the public about health risks from eating mercury contaminated freshwater fish.

I was forced out of DEP for blowing the whistle on that.

Whitman’s suppression of the NJ mercury issue was a prequel to her 9/11 response action.

Although it is dangerous to speculate and create “alternate history”, we can’t help but wonder that had the US Senate listened to our criticism and declined to confirm Whitman – or had the media been more aware and skeptical of her “Alar scare” ideology – then maybe a lot of first responders might not be dying of preventable deaths caused by 9/11 exposures.

A decade later, serious EPA problems remain unaddressed, as noted by our friends at PEER

News Releases

For Immediate Release: September 8, 2011Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

PREVENTING ANOTHER 9/11 FIRST RESPONDERS TRAGEDY – Irresponsible EPA Corrosive Dust Standards Uncorrected a Decade after WTC

Washington, DC:  On September 11, 2001, “First Responders” to the World Trade Center conflagration and nearby residents waded into dust so corrosive that it resulted in chemical burns to their respiratory system.  These New York City police and firefighters were needlessly sacrificed due to woefully lax U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards which remain in effect but need correction, according to a rulemaking petition filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

After the horrific World Trade Center (WTC) implosion, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman assured a worried nation and terrified residents that the airborne hazardous substances at the site were “below background levels” and no worse than a “typical smoggy day.”  She could not have been more wrong.

WTC First Responders were subjected to dust so caustic as to cause respiratory disabilities and deaths.  Yet, if a similar scenario occurred today, the same results would recur.  That is because EPA misapplied the international corrosivity standard and then systematically failed to test and communicate the caustic properties of WTC dust.  As a result, the EPA standard is ten times more lax than the presumed safe levels for alkaline corrosives set by the United Nations (UN).

Despite persistent efforts by one of its senior chemists, EPA has not reconsidered its mistake.  Dr. Cate Jenkins, a determined 31-year agency employee, charges that the refusal to tighten the standard is fueled by both a fear of liability and industry pressure because the same health dangers, though on a smaller scale, attend workers and spectators at most building demolitions and people living around cement plants.

“This petition will right a monstrous wrong left uncorrected by official gross negligence,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who co-filed the petition today with Dr. Jenkins. “It is past time for EPA to ensure that the heroic sacrifice of the WTC First Responders is never repeated.”

The petition demands that EPA dramatically tighten its corrosivity standard so that responders would be alerted to use personal protection equipment to prevent lung respiratory damage.  The petition would bring the U.S. into line with standards in force in the European Union and Canada, and adopted by the UN.

Robert Dellinger, one of the responsible EPA officials, explained the agency position in 2007:

“It seems that agency made a policy call to exempt these wastes by raising the pH level of the corrosivity characteristic. This was done in public manner, no law suit was filed, no petitions have been received asking us to change pH to 11.5.”

“It is not the public’s responsibility to detect falsifications by EPA, nor should they have to submit petitions or bring law suits to force EPA to perform its duty to act honestly in protecting the public,” said Dr. Jenkins. Now that we have petitioned EPA to correct the standard, the agency has lost even this flimsy excuse for inaction.”

After raising this issue to the EPA Inspector General, then Congress, Dr. Jenkins was isolated, harassed and ultimately removed from her position this year by EPA based upon a claim of threatening behavior.  Dr. Jenkins is soft-spoken, petite, and suffered from polio as a child.  The charge that she intimidated her 6-foot male supervisor has been upheld at a preliminary level, however.

“Unfortunately, senior EPA managers responsible for failure to protect the First Responders are the ones behind Dr. Jenkins’ removal,” added Dinerstein, one of the PEER attorneys representing Dr. Jenkins in legal challenges to restore her to her position at EPA. “The only thing Dr. Jenkins is guilty of is not suffering fools gladly.”

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