A Tale of One City and One Town

After the firefighters, police, and other emergency responders had quelled the initial calamities of the 9/11 assaults on the World Trade Center, those courageous men and women began to fall ill. Newspapers ran accounts of inexplicable symptoms, primarily of a respiratory nature. These maladies were first chalked up to stress, but in time it became clear that their causes were indeed external. And those stories vanished from the papers. Here comes Chapter 2.

It Just Goes On and On
According to an AP report by Larry Neumeister, former EPA head Christine Todd Whitman is on the hot seat for assuring the residents of and students and workers in the area around "Ground Zero" that they would be just fine returning to their regular haunts. U.S. District Judge Deborah A. Batts has refused to grant Whitman immunity to a class action lawsuit filed in 2004 and which is now crawling its way through the courts. The complaint says basically that some constituents of the tons of particulates released into the air when the Twin Towers were destroyed were toxic.

But this is not about Whitman or Batts or the plantiffs. It's about where, if anywhere, were the sensors? Cities across this country have sensing devices mounted on utility poles to monitor CO levels, gun shot activity, speeding vehicles, traffic snarls, you name it. If atmospheric sniffer/analyzers weren't promptly installed in downtown Manhattan, I would like to know why. And if those sensors were doing their job and their reports were ignored, I'd really like to know why.

Now to the Town
Maybe you sometimes have to carry the hod yourself. Margie Richard, a retired high school environmental teacher, lived in Norco, LA, 40 miles upriver from New Orleans. The town, in the Old Diamond area, was locally (and now nationally) known as "Cancer Alley." Richard saw her neighbors fall ill and die from assorted respiratory ailments that she suspected were caused by emissions from a nearby oil refinery.

To support her contentions, she installed sensing devices under the trailer in which she lived. The two she used, provided by EPEC funds and the Sierra Club's Maura Wood, were a Webcam that monitored flares from the refinery and an air quality collector/sampler. The air sampler equipment was subsequently distributed around the community to give the people in it "a right to know what thy were they were breathing," according to Wood.

Good Results and a Suggestion
Rounds of complaints, suspicions, accusations, and denials had been going on for some 40 years, but Richard's incontrovertible data brought about financial settlements and relocations for those still living near the refinery. And the company agreed to use laser detection devices to monitor fugitive emissions.

Margie Richard became the first African-American to win the Goldman Environmental Prize, which is awarded to grassroots environmentalists. She's now 64. Perhaps she could be persuaded to import her common sense, her determination, and some sensors to Manhattan.

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