WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration was accused Thursday by senators in both parties of minimizing health hazards from the toxic soup left by Hurricane Katrina, just as they said it did with air pollution in New York from the Sept. 11 attacks.The EPA reassured people after 9-11 that the area was safe to enter. It was not, and many people are sick, perhaps fatally. Like Lautenberg, I hope they are being honest now.
More than a month after the storm, compounded by Hurricane Rita, Environmental Protection Agency officials said 1 million people lack clean drinking water around New Orleans. Some 70 million tons of hazardous waste remain on the Gulf Coast.
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Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., called the government's response to Katrina "apparent chaos."
Both he and Boxer recalled the Bush administration's response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, when the White House directed EPA officials to minimize the health risk posed by the cloud of smoke from the World Trade Center collapse. Within 10 days of those attacks, EPA issued five news releases reassuring the public about air quality without testing for contaminants such as PCBs and dioxin.
It was only nine months later -- after respiratory ailments began showing up in workers cleaning up the debris and residents of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn -- that EPA could point to any scientific evidence, saying then that air quality had returned to pre-Sept. 11 levels.
"I hope that we're not seeing history repeat itself," said Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.