Monday, June 5, 2006

9/11 Workers & Air Masks

The NYT today has a lengthy and detailed piece keying off of a federal suit brought on behalf of 8,000 rescue workers who were part of the response to Ground Zero:

With mounting evidence that exposure to the toxic smoke and ash at ground zero during the nine-month cleanup has made many people sick, attention is now focusing on the role of air-filtering masks, or respirators, that cost less than $50 and could have shielded workers from some of the toxins.

More than 150,000 such masks were distributed and only 40,000 people worked on the pile, but most workers either did not have the masks or did not use them.

* * *

From legal documents presented in the case, a tale emerges of heroic but ineffective efforts to protect workers, with botched opportunities, confused policies and contradictions that failed to ensure their safety.

* * *

The city, which is the principal government defendant, has moved to have the lawsuit dismissed. It argues that it and the private contractors it hired to help in the cleanup did their best to provide adequate equipment and to get workers to use it, but many workers ignored the warnings. Many workers cited reasons for not keeping the masks on, like the stifling heat and the difficulty of communicating while wearing them.

Even if the response to an unprecedented emergency was flawed, the city's lawyers argue, a firmly established legal immunity under the State Defense Emergency Act and other laws protects New York from legal liability.

Farther down in the story is an interesting tidbit about then-EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman:

David M. Newman, an industrial hygienist with the labor committee, said that when federal environmental officials announced that it was safe for people to return to Lower Manhattan so that Wall Street could reopen a week after the towers collapsed, employers suddenly "had a green light to say, 'We don't need to use respirators because the E.P.A. says the air is OK.' "

He was referring to a statement made on Sept. 18, 2001, by Christie Whitman, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, that air sampling done by her agency showed that the air was safe to breathe. The agency's inspector general concluded in 2003 that Ms. Whitman's statement was far too broad and could not be scientifically supported at the time she made it.

I got a sample complaint from PACER: View it here [PDF].

While looking around for a copy of the complaint, I came across Perry Binder's site at Georgia State, which has a wide array of resources relating to 9/11 litigation.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/tortsprof/2006/06/911_workers_air.html

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