Volume 77 / Number 51 - May 21 - 27, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since


Downtown’s health and safety abandoned

With a president who admits to breaking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and who reserved his torture options while signing an anti-torture bill into law, perhaps it is no longer shocking to some when his government disregards the law. It is shocking, or at least it should be.

President Bush’s Department of Health and Human Services is not planning to pay for the 9/11-related healthcare treatment to residents, office workers and students that he authorized at the end of last year when he signed a budget bill into law. Instead of negotiating a compromise or vetoing a bill with provisions he did not like, he signed it under the apparent belief that he and H.H.S. could get away with ignoring the parts of the law that they didn’t like, such as spending $108 million on 9/11-related healthcare.

It fits into the administration’s pattern since 9/11 of disregard for the health of the people who live and work in Lower Manhattan.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s leader then, Christie Whitman, famously said the “air is safe to breathe” on Sept. 18, 2001, even though she did not have the evidence to make the claim. We now know White House officials edited the E.P.A.’s scientific assertions, which had the effect of giving false assurances to the public.

The E.P.A. does not appear to believe that protecting people from environmental hazards is a fundamental part of its mission. The agency has found dangerous levels of lead in 73 percent of the Downtown buildings it has tested as part of its 9/11 test-and-clean program, and in 10 percent of the apartments. The agency has cleaned the areas where it has found lead, but has done nothing about the actual source of the hazard — lead-based paint — nor has it warned the many residents in these buildings who did not participate in the E.P.A. program that their young children, in particular, may be at risk for brain damage because of lead exposure.

E.P.A. officials seem relieved that the lead does not appear to be from the World Trade Center collapse. E.P.A. claimed it was passing on the list of lead-building addresses to the city’s Health Department, but then admitted it had not. The Health Department said if it got the addresses, it would work with landlords to correct the problem.

The E.P.A. cites privacy concerns for why it is sitting on information about potential dangers. While we suspect this is simply a pretext for doing nothing, it is clear to us that whatever privacy concerns there are in this matter do not trump issues of public safety.

The E.P.A. has had to be pressured at almost every instance since 9/11 to do the right thing. The agency must act in the public interest and get the information out about potential lead dangers. Health and Human Services should abandon the E.P.A.’s approach and instead act humanely by obeying the law.

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