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After being snubbed by NYC, attorneys plan to sue for documents on 9/11 toxins

Thomas Tracy, New York Daily News on

Published in News & Features

NEW YORK — Attorneys for 9/11 survivors plan to take New York City to court to obtain pivotal data on the toxins that hovered over lower Manhattan following the terror attacks — now that their requests for the information have been repeatedly denied, the Daily News has learned.

Several lead city agencies in the city’s investigation of ground zero air quality have denied attorneys Andrew Carboy and Matthew McCauley’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests for the information.

The NYC Emergency Management and the Environmental Protection Department have also denied FOIL appeals for the information.

“By refusing to release documents that should be freely available in any functioning democracy, the city is inviting legal action,” Carboy said Friday. “We will seek full judicial scrutiny of the city’s ‘reasons’ for not responding.”

Benjamin Chavet, director of 9/11 Health Watch, took a stronger tone over the repeated FOIL denials.

“This is starting to look like a coverup.” Chevat said. “What’s unclear is why the current administration doesn’t want to answer the question about what did Mayor (Rudy) Giuliani’s administration know and when did they know it.”

The Adams administration has made it clear they do not plan to release any documents until it determines if releasing the information will get the city sued.

“We are aware of requests to produce city documents on the aftermath of the attacks, which would require extensive legal review to identify privileged material and liability risk, and are exploring ways to determine the cost of such a review,” a mayoral spokeswoman said in February.

The city did not return a request for comment about Carboy’s plan to now sue the city.

“The city is now reaping what it sowed,” Carboy said as he prepares to go to court. “These documents belong in a public archive, open to all, not in the locked files of bureaucracy.”

The attorneys filed the FOIL requests on behalf of 9/11 Health Watch and the families of first responders who died of 9/11 illnesses including Firefighter Robert Fitzgibbon and NYPD Det. Luis Alvarez. They asked for whatever data former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was aware of about toxic chemicals at Ground Zero in the months after the attacks.

The FOIL request asked for “documents, reports, assessments” about the toxins, dust and fumes that came from the destroyed World Trade Center and other information about future health threats to 9/11 first responders and survivors.

On Feb. 29, the DEP denied the appeal, claiming it did a diligent search but found no records.

 

Last week, the mayor’s office extended the deadline of when it will respond to their FOIL requests. Other agencies the attorneys are waiting to hear from include the Design and Construction Department, the Health Department, the City Council and the Law Department.

“It’s really a sort of a three card monte game that they have going,” Chevat said, adding that some of the information Carboy is seeking is on the DEP website.

“The city DEP is saying that they have no records?” Chevat asked. “That they conducted a diligent search? Not sure how diligent they were if they did not look at their own website.”

Carboy is currently working on an Article 78 legal motion challenging the city’s denial. An Article 78 action is a special proceeding that can be used to challenge New York agencies. If the motion is successful, a judge could order the city to produce the requested records.

Under FOIL, the city may withhold documents if their release would endanger public safety.

“Here, the requested historical records may demonstrate how the city endangered public safety, more than 22 years ago,” Carboy said.

“The release of the documents today could even promote public health and safety, enabling additional research for medical care and treatment of individuals affected by World Trade Center toxins,” he added.

One city official said uncovering the paperwork from these 9/11 studies posed a challenge because many documents at the time weren’t digitized, requiring the agencies to dig into decades-old paper records.

Others have told Carboy the reports may have been destroyed over the last two decades. Some even inexplicably suggested the documents about Ground Zero toxins were destroyed during the terror attack.

“We do not accept that records created after Sept. 11th were destroyed on Sept. 11th, as some of the responses suggest,” Carboy said. “If there is some greater plan to release the records through the Mayor’s Office, as opposed to through the DEP or Office of Emergency Management, which denied our requests, we are unaware of it.”

An estimated 400,000 people were exposed to ground zero toxins on 9/11 and the days that followed, including 91,000 first responders, 57,000 residents who lived south of Canal St. and 15,000 students and administrators at lower Manhattan schools, according to city statistics.

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©2024 New York Daily News. Visit nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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