February 2, 2006

US Judge Blasts EPA over 9-11 Dust Health Dangers

NEW YORK -- A federal judge on Thursday scolded the Environmental Protection Agency and its former chief for not warning residents near the World Trade Center about health dangers following the September 11 attacks and said a lawsuit brought against them could proceed.

A group of residents, students and workers claiming they have been affected by the dust fallout from the attacks is seeking compensatory damages, and to compel testing by the EPA of office buildings, schools and residences in the area. They want EPA to conduct a clean-up if needed.

U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts in a written opinion blasted the agency and its former head Christine Todd Whitman for reassuring people that it was safe to return to their homes and workplaces.

Whitman, in particular, "knowing the likely harm to those exposed to the hazardous materials, encouraged residents, workers and students to return to the area," the judge said.

"No reasonable person would have thought that telling thousands of people that it was safe to return to Lower Manhattan, while knowing that such a return could pose long-term health risks and other dire consequences, was conduct sanctioned by our laws," Batts said.

The judge noted a series of press releases sent out by the agency and Whitman in the week following the attacks saying the air around lower Manhattan was safe to breathe was misleading as "the EPA and Whitman did not have sufficient data and analysis to substantiate these statements," she said.

The judge noted that of 170 dust samples the EPA took by September 17, 2001, 30 per cent were found to contain levels of asbestos higher than 1 per cent, the threshold for danger as defined by the EPA at the time.

The EPA said in a statement that it was reviewing the decision.