Washington, DC — Public servants who responded to the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 were subjected to the same type of harmful fumes that felled many of the First Responders at New York City’s World Trade Center, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Pentagon First Responders were not tracked for the crippling health effects that followed, nor have safeguards for First Responders been improved despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for corrosive dust are woefully inadequate.
On that morning eleven years ago, less than 35 minutes after takeoff the fully-fueled airliner crashed into the western side of the Pentagon, killing all people on board in a raging fireball. Minutes after impact, a portion of the Pentagon collapsed and the blaze burned on for days.
Members of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency were among the first responders and maintained perimeter security throughout. These officers, among others, stood hour-by-hour inhaling plumes of airborne asbestos fibers, billowing silica dust and vaporized mercury.
Similarly, World Trade Center (WTC) First Responders and nearby residents waded into dust so corrosive that it resulted in chemical burns to their respiratory systems. Yet, unlike the WTC responders, the Pentagon responders have not been monitored for health effects and many feel they have been given a cold shoulder by the Defense Department.
“We have been contacted by current and former officers who complain about a ‘massive outbreak’ of respiratory illnesses among those serving at the Pentagon on 9/11,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The Pentagon, however, discouraged health claims stemming from 9/11 and has not allowed health monitoring of its First Responders. Instead, Pentagon police with respiratory problems have been forced out of service on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Disability Retirement.”
Aggravating the official non-response is the failure by EPA to correct national standards for airborne hazardous substances at these sites. Thus, if a similar disaster occurred today, many of the same results would occur. That is because the EPA standard – due to improper testing and a concerted failure to re-examine the toxic properties of the dust – is ten times more lax than the non-hazardous levels established by the United Nations World Health Organization.
“Unfortunately, our federal government has refused to learn some of the most important lessons from 9/11, namely, the need to protect valiant first responders from becoming collateral damage,” added Ruch, noting that PEER recently won the restoration of the crusading EPA scientist, Dr. Cate Jenkins, who exposed the ineffective EPA corrosive dust standards. Last year on her behalf, PEER submitted a formal rule-making petition demanding that EPA correct its corrosive dust standard by bringing the U.S. into line with standards in force in the European Union and Canada. EPA has yet to respond, however. “EPA’s continued inaction only compounds the tragedy of 9/11.” Ruch concluded.