Ground zero workers exposed to hazardous chemicals26/10/2001 - 16:00:35
Workers at the remains of the World Trade Centre have been exposed to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals and suffered unnecessary injuries, it was revealed today.
An official government safety report slammed the city of New York for not making sure workers had basic equipment including hard hats, safety glasses and respirators and for allowing 1,000 injuries to take place since September 11.
And a leaked document showed dangerous levels of chemicals including lead, benzene and chromium have contaminated the air and the soil around the site, and exposed workers to levels far higher than is legal.
The safety report, by the American National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said basic training and equipment could have prevented injuries at the site including severe burns and broken bones.
Safety inspector John Moran issued a damning report and said: ‘‘There is no excuse for what I saw.
‘‘When I was up there, there was no evidence of any safety or health programme or plan. It’s the worst site I’ve ever seen, extremely hazardous.
‘‘Very few of the workers were wearing even the most basic protective equipment.’’
The report came after a five-day inspection of what is now America’s biggest construction site, where almost 2,000 workers continue to labour at any one time.
The city’s fire department admitted there had been problems initially, but said safety procedures were being tightened up.
Spokesman Frank Gribbon told the New York Daily News: ‘‘There has never been anything of this magnitude in the nation’s history.
‘‘The fact is that there are fewer and fewer injuries as time goes on.’’
And New York’s regulatory body responsible for worker safety, the Committee on Occupational Health and Safety, said it accepted the report but argued that the circumstances were unique.
The committee’s executive director, Joel Shufro, said: ‘‘They were taking risk which under the circumstances were understandable, and those people need to be considered heroes.
‘‘But this is no longer a rescue operation. What needs to happen now is that workers need to be protected so they don’t suffer illness or injury. What we don’t want to see is a second national tragedy.’’
The report came as leaked internal government documents revealed toxic chemicals and metal had contaminated the air, soil and water around the remains of the World Trade Centre.
The New York Daily News reported the documents showed dioxins, PCBs, benzene, lead and chromium among the substances released in dangerous levels at the site.
Monitoring devices have found the Hudson River, which neighbours the site, has high levels of contamination, while on one day air levels of benzene, which can cause leukaemia, was 58 times higher than the legal limit.
The American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found the fires which continue to burn at the site were releasing the chemical into the air at levels consistently higher than the recommended daily exposure.
Other findings included dioxin and deadly PCBs at five times the permitted level being discharged via a sewer into the Hudson River, and levels of the pollutant at their highest since 1993 in sediment from the river bed.
PBCs are odourless and tasteless mixtures of chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls, which are thought to cause cancer and have been linked with liver, stomach and thyroid damage.
So-called heavy metals including chromium, copper, lead and zinc were also discharged into the Hudson, while lead levels in the air around ground zero have been consistently above safe limits.
And on a series of days, the air in lower Manhattan was choked with sulphur dioxide at levels above what is defined as ‘‘hazardous’’ by the EPA, which can trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions.
An EPA spokeswoman said: ‘‘When we are finding these readings that have some significant level to them, they are primarily within the work area.
‘‘As for the cumulative impact of these chemicals that is an area of science and study and research that we really have not developed methodologies to do that kind of assessment.’’
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