February 2, 2006

US Judge blasts EPA over September 11 dust health dangers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - 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