Goldman Pushes Adams to Release Documents from 2001 about City Hall’s Awareness of Ground Zero Health Risks
Congressman Dan Goldman is taking up a cause championed by Jerry Nadler (Mr. Goldman’s predecessor as Lower Manhattan’s representative in Washington), demanding that the administration of Mayor Eric Adams make public previously unreleased City documents that may shed light on what Rudolph Giuliani, who was Mayor in September 2001, knew about environmental health risks in weeks and months following of the destruction of the World Trade Center.
“Living in Downtown Manhattan on September 11th, I will never forget watching the second plane hit the Towers and the soot-covered people walking up Hudson Street,” Mr. Goldman says. “It is long past time for full disclosure of what the City knew about harmful toxins circulating around Lower Manhattan following the 9/11 attack. This information is not only important for transparency, but it is essential so we can better address medical problems arising out of exposure to those toxins, especially for those who were children at the time.”
Last July, Mr. Adams took a step that was blocked by three of his predecessors, and announced that he was willing to consider releasing documents concealed by the administrations of Mr. Giuliani, as well as Mayors Michael Bloomberg, and Bill de Blasio, about what information City Hall had in the weeks following September 11, 2001 regarding toxins released by the collapse of the World Trade Center.
But in September, Mr. Adams reversed this stance, and refused to make public the documents in question, unless City government was first granted immunity against any lawsuits that might arise from them.
Although Mr. Giuliani said little in public about the dangers posed by environmental toxins at Ground Zero during the three months that remained in his tenure after September 11, 2001, one indication of his frame of mind might be gleaned from an action he took in November 2001. The Mayor urged members of New York’s Congressional delegation to help pass the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which capped “the liability for all claims against the City of New York as a result of such attacks to no more than the City’s insurance coverage or $350 million.”
This position may have been motivated in part by an internal discussion within the Giuliani administration. A February 16 letter from Mr. Goldman to the Mayor cites an October 2001 confidential memo circulated among City Hall staff warning of “toxic tort cases that might arise in the next few decades.”
Seven days after the attacks, then-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Christine Todd Whitman said, “we are very encouraged that the results from our monitoring of air-quality and drinking-water conditions… show that the public is not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances.” She added, “given the scope of the tragedy from last week, I am glad to reassure the people of New York… that their air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink.”
Without adequate warning of the dangers posed by more than 2,500 contaminants (including asbestos, lead, mercury, dioxins, crystalline silica, cadmium, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, along with pulverized concrete and glass) now known to have filled the air and coated every surface for hundreds of yards in all directions, thousands of first responders and cleanup workers flocked to the site, and tens of thousands of local residents returned to their homes. In the decades since, the death toll among these groups has surpassed the number killed during the actual attacks, while the count of those sickened with the 80-plus conditions subsequently linked to exposure to World Trade Center debris is now many times the tally of the dead.
In the February 16 letter, Mr. Goldman and Mr. Nadler urge, “that the City of New York finally, after more than 20 years, fully disclose what the Giuliani Administration knew about the harmful impacts of the toxins released in the 9/11 attacks, the subsequent cleanup, and when it knew this information.”
“While we understand that the City is concerned about its liability, releasing the records will likely help to save lives,” the letter notes. It continues, “our staff met with the City Corporation Counsel staff. Despite the benefits that releasing the records could mean for informing and advancing medical research conducted on behalf of those struggling with 9/11 illnesses, Corporation Counsel attorneys clearly stated they have a strong incentive to keep any 9/11 aftermath documents privileged because otherwise, the City would be liable for those claims.”
The renewed push by Mr. Goldman and Mr. Nadler has garnered support from local activists who focus on the continuing health impacts of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Kimberly Flynn, director of 9/11 Environmental Action, said, “after September 11, Mayor Giuliani and his administration engaged in an extended campaign to deceive New Yorkers about the dangers in the dust and smoke. Yes, the EPA lied when Whitman declared that the ‘air is safe’—but the Mayor and City agencies were in lock step with that lie. City agencies, like the Department of Education and the Department of Health, put the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of Lower Manhattan residents, students and workers at risk. Everyone whose health was affected by toxic exposures that could have been prevented is entitled to full accountability and transparency.”
Mariama James, a member of Community Board 1 who has led the charge for accountability, transparency, and support for survivors for almost two decades, said, “New Yorkers need to know what really happened here—especially now that we know how many people are suffering from World Trade Center-related toxic exposures. The City lied—they told parents and residents that we should not be concerned. That the kids could all go back to school. And all we needed was a HEPA filter and HEPA vacuum in our homes. Literally, my entire immediate family is sick as a result of the EPA and the City’s misleading us. We demand accountability. Show me the records!”
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