Asbestos, Minerals, and United States Policy
by Bill Robbins
An April 19, 2007 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals (Lombardi v. Whitman) provides stunning insight into the aftermath of the 9/11 attack. Five years after rushing to assist Twin Tower victims, first responders and cleanup workers are dying. The injured participated in search, rescue, and clean-up work at the site with no equipment to protect their lungs. In court documents, the plaintiffs alleged the U.S. Government issued reassuring and knowingly deceptive and misleading statements that the ambient air they inhaled presented no health risks to the public.
The Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported unsafe air continuously detected for weeks after the attack on the Twin Towers. Yet, the White House Council on Environmental Quality routinely edited that information from EPA press releases.
The court’s ruling against the workers affirmed the government’s right to lie, mislead, and omit information in order to insure immediate search, recovery, and clean-up. Moreover, the court claimed the government had a responsibility to create the impression it was safe for people to reside and work in areas near Ground Zero, so they would return to their normal routines. The Court declared that everyone knew, “That one essential government function, in the wake of disaster, is to put the affected community [and nation] on a normal footing.” Preserving the economy (reopening the New York Stock Exchange), restoring services, and avoiding panic were higher priorities than individual or family health.
The extent of human casualties continues to evolve. The administration’s decision to issue false air quality announcements will end more American lives than the terrorists’ attack. Twenty-one thousand workers, and their families, are now suffering from inhaling the building ‘dust.’ Their medical treatment costs are projected to exceed $400 million annually.
New York City rescue workers requested information by way of the Internet, including such questions as “What are the health effects of inhaling this dust from pulverized building materials?” Posted replies alerted the workers to immediately don respirators. The replies described mineral exposure symptoms, and suggested that exposed personnel seek medical treatment and file worker compensation claims. These postings conflicted with government policy and were quickly deleted.
Today, survivors avoid Lower Manhattan. In addition, over 670,000 New Yorkers are still at risk to environmental illnesses.
Minerals indiscriminately kill. Mineral dust, often released during building renovation, takes more lives each day than all the nine-millimeter handguns do in a year. The World Health Organization claims 54% of all worker deaths that result from exposure to workplace carcinogens originated from one mineral source asbestos. Asbestos is a generic name for six distinct minerals. Over 4,000 industrial applications of these minerals exist, and when inhaled, they are all injurious to your health.
Globally, people who live or work in buildings whose windows do not open and whose entry points are constructed with doorway airlocks are under similar attack. Sealed buildings are seen as a way to reduce energy use and cut operating expense. But, in a sealed building air forced through the ventilation system collects and spreads mineral dust throughout the building. Sick building syndrome and respiratory problems are the fate of those who live or work in such structures. Initial diagnoses often advance into debilitating, life-ending illnesses.
The 9/11 attack and the administration’s appalling response provide an unfortunate observation. Tower responders worked outside, gradually wind and rain dissipated the Ground Zero toxins. Still, one third of the workers have already developed progressive illnesses.
Andrew Robbins is the author of It Took My Breath Away: One Man’s Experience May Save Your Life.