Thank you to the good folks at http://www.nycosh.org for keeping us apprised.
Former EPA administrator Christie Whitman should be held personally liable for misleading statements that led downtown residents to return to their homes after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center when the entire area was contaminated with toxic dust, a federal judicial panel was told this week.
Lawyers in a class-action suit brought by area residents against Whitman and the EPA told the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals that an earlier lower court ruling which denied Whitman’s claim to immunity from liability should be upheld. The government is appealing that decision and arguments on the appeal were heard on Monday.
Five days after 9/11, Whitman stated, “The good news continues to be that air samples we have taken have all been at levels that cause no concern.” A damning report issued in 2003 by the EPA’s Inspector General detailed false and misleading statements the EPA made to the press about the air quality following 9/11 and noted that the White House had instructed the EPA to downplay air quality issues.
In a ruling last year U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts refused to dismiss Whitman as a defendant in the class-action suit and said, “Whitman’s deliberate and misleading statements made to the press, where she reassured the public that the air was safe to breathe around Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, and that there would be no health risk presented to those returning to those areas, shock the conscience.”
This week the government argued that if Whitman is held liable for her statements, it would silence government officials in the future for fear of being subject to personal liability, “Then the clear message for government officials is to say nothing,” Justice Department attorney Alisa Klein told the appeals panel.
“We don’t need silence and we don’t need lies. We need credible information,” said NYCOSH Industrial Hygienist David Newman, who has provided expert testimony in multiple Congressional hearings on the environmental impact and toxic contamination that resulted from the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.
“When Christie Whitman said the air was safe, we know it was a lie. EPA’s own tests showed elevated concentrations of a variety of contaminants, at a variety of points, at a variety of distances from Ground Zero. The EPA operated on political imperatives, rather than public health imperatives. That’s what happened here,” Newman said.
Just in time for the holiday season, the newest report from the National Labor Committee may keep shoppers from hanging Wal-Mart ornaments on their Christmas tree.
Entitled “A Wal-Mart Christmas Brought to You from a Sweatshop in China,” the report exposes conditions for the 8,000 workers inside the Guangzhou Huanya Gift Company in Guangdong, “where every single labor law, not to mention internationally recognized worker rights standards, are being grossly violated on a daily basis.” The company, with $60 million in annual sales, is one of Wal-Mart 4,800 supplier factories in China.
The ornament workers, who include children as young as 12 years old, work from 10 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, and may go for months without a day off. Many workers earn as little as 26 cents an hour–just half of China’s legal minimum wage, according to the report.
Workers in the spray paint department “lack even the most rudimentary protective gear–going without gloves or the cheapest disposable respiratory masks–while handling potentially dangerous paints, ‘gold’ dust, thinners and solvents,” the report says. It cites the example of “a young man, working without gloves or a mask, who sprays rack after rack of 32 Christmas balls each, completing between 64,000 and 76,800 ornaments a day.”
Video footage smuggled out of the factory shows workers sitting on low stools and plastic crates, without backrests or cushions, racing to complete one operation every three seconds. Some workers will complete 12,000 to 14,400 such operations in a day, the report says.
“With its expensive PR campaign, and masquerading as Tiny Tim, Wal-Mart is glorifying the virtue of buying cheap goods in its stores, claiming this is the real holiday spirit,” said Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee. “But, especially at this time of year, no American would knowingly purchase a product in Wal-Mart if they knew that bargain was based on the exploitation of children and teenagers forced to work grueling hours, seven days a week, who are stripped of their rights and paid pennies an hour.”
The report is available at the NLC website at www.nlcnet.org.