Sunday, September 9, 2007

Toxins on the WTC Pile - Did Rudy Call OSHA?

It is possible that more people were injured by work on the World Trade Center disaster pile, than in the attacks themselves, all because of toxic dust they inhaled. The pulverized building materials, including asbestos, PCBs, concrete dust and a great "soup" of other materials floated in the air where people worked. Thousands working on that pile inhaled these toxins, and pay for it now, years later; some have already died. Thousands of workers and volunteers entered the clouds of toxic dust without respirators, dust masks or other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) of any kind. Others got by with inadequate protection and suffered damaging toxic exposure as well. Why weren't we smarter about conditions on the pile, when we are the nation with the most sophisticated understanding of worker safety and protection?

On CBS 60 minutes, blame was discussed, as regards the EPA, and Christine Todd Whitman who was EPA director at the time. If they were discussing exposure of average New Yorkers in Lower Manhattan, Whitman was the one to explain, but the EPA doesn't regulate worker exposure. The federal agency with that responsibility is OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, headed by then Assistant Secretary of Labor John L. Henshaw. The question I pose is, did those in New York handling the project request OSHA help, and did Henshaw respond. Given the political atmosphere of the time, one would expect Rudy Giuliani to seek the best help available, and get it easily. How could anyone in the US government refuse such a request just after 9/11? It would have been political suicide.

In order to learn from the failures of our 9/11 response, we better look to those in a position to protect the volunteers and workers on the pile for answers. OSHA regulators ensure safety in construction, mining, manufacture of building materials, demolition of buildings and all other industrial and construction work in the US; clearly, they had the expertise to know what protection was appropriate. So tell us, Mr. Gullianni and Mr. Henshaw, What was done to harness the formidable resources of OSHA and use their knowledge to protect the people on the pile? Why was their protection so poor that we have a secondary disaster?

Mr. Giuliani, Did you ask for advice from OSHA on how to protect workers on the pile? If so, when? Why were so many exposed to toxic injury?

Mr. Henshaw, did OSHA provide (or offer) assistance or advice on worker protection for those working to save or recover victims of the WTC disaster? Did OSHA inspectors monitor conditions in which people on the pile worked?

If any of you can shed light on this question, please post a comment. If we don't learn from such disastrous mistakes in our past, we condemn ourselves to repeat them in the future.

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