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EPA ordered to hire back fired 9/11 whistleblower

Chemist warned of dust's danger to first responders' lungs

May 9, 2012

EPAAn EPA scientist who was fired after accusing the agency of covering up caustic dust hazards at Ground Zero will get her job back, under a recent order by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

Cate Jenkins, a chemist who has spent more than 30 decades at the EPA, was the first agency official to raise concerns about dust with dangerously high pH levels at the ruins of the World Trade Center.

As many as two-thirds of those who worked at the scene -- many without respirators -- suffered permant lung damage, including chemical burns. Health experts say many of the health effects suffered by first responders could have been prevented if workers were issued appropriate safety gear.

The federal court ordered Jenkins reinstated with back pay.

Former EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman assurred New Yorkers that the air near Ground Zero was safe after 9/11. Testifying at a Congressional hearing in 2007, Whitman denied that there had been a deliberate attempt to cover up health risks at the site. Whitman said that her agency had issued warning to workers on the debris pile to wear protective equipment, but that her agency had no ability or authority to enforce that requirement. At that time,Whitman said evidence linking the dust to disease was inconclusive.

Jenkins told the Congressional Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health that the EPA was deliberately concealing the dangers. She requested an investigation into the falsification of pH corrosivity date for World Trade Center dust.

"This corrosivity is attributed to be one of the causative agents in current respiratory disabilities and/or deaths of first responders, recovery workers, laborers, residents, and office workers," wrote Jenkins in an official complaint. "Corrosive dusts would also have facilitated the entry into the body via the respiratory system of other toxic substances found in WTC emissions."

Jenkins was allegedly harrassed by her superiors and then terminated in 2010 after being accused of physically threatening her supervisor. Jenkins is a polio survivor with a smallstature. Her male supervisor is over six feet tall.

In its decision, the MSPB said Jenkins had been wrongly denied her right to due process on a number of counts.

The 9/11 controversy is not the first time Jenkins has gone up against her employer. In the 1990s, she was transferred out of her position after accusing Monsanto of falsifying a study on the cancer risk from exposure to Agent Orange. An administrative judge later ruled she had been wrongly transferred.