Effort to Get New York City to Release 9/11 Documents

With the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2021, then Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney along with Congressman Jerrold Nadler wrote to then Mayor DeBlasio and called on him and his administration to open the City’s files and help provide to injured and ill 9/11 responders, survivors, and their families a better understanding of what the Giuliani Administration knew about the likely scope of the health crisis that would affect so many and when they knew it.

We know, based on reporting by Anthony DePalma at the New York Times in 2007 in his article “Ground Zero Illnesses Clouding Giuliani’s Legacy” May 14, 2007 , that while then Mayor Giuliani’s administration was saying that the air was safe to breathe, they were privately predicting 10,000 liability claims for injuries from toxic exposures.

Robert Adams, director of environmental health and safety services at the Design and Construction Department, told the City Council’s environmental committee in early November that even unprotected ground zero workers would not experience long-term health risks. In an interview last week, Mr. Adams, now working for a consulting firm in Princeton, N.J., said that he still believed that based on the information available at the time, the right decisions were made.

Whatever they were saying publicly about the safety of the air, Mr. Giuliani and his staff were privately worried. A memo to Deputy Mayor Robert M. Harding from his assistant in early October said that the city faced as many as 10,000 liability claims connected to 9/11, “including toxic tort cases that might arise in the next few decades.”

The Members of Congress stated that they believed that the Giuliani administration intentionally failed to disclose what they apparently knew in September-October of 2001 and because of that, thousands of responders and community members ended up facing tremendous long term health impacts.

Because it appears that the Giuliani administration hid what they knew, the response to the health care crisis facing so many was delayed for years. Moreover, in that time, the City Health Department continued to deny the hazards from exposure to toxic dust inside the homes, schools and workplaces contaminated in the disaster.

The Members of Congress urged Mayor DeBlasio to have the City Department of Investigation conduct an independent review of the City’s files and, in the interest of transparency, fully release any information they have on what then Mayor Giuliani and his administration knew about the hazards from the toxins at Ground Zero faced by so many responders and survivors and when did he and his administration know it.

20 years later, a full review remains essential, and we believe that only an independent review by the City Department of Investigation of all the relevant files will allow for the full disclosure with the confidence that it will be forthcoming that we believe injured and ill 9/11 responders, survivors and their families need and deserve.

However, Mayor DeBlasio never responded to their request and left office at the end of 2021.

In May of 2022, the Representatives sent a letter to Mayor Eric Adams asking the new Mayor to open the City’s files and reveal what the City knew and when did it know it.

Mayor Adams responded with a July 6th 2022 letter to the Members of Congress.

His letter stated:

My administration is deeply committed to ensuring that the responders, survivors, and their families are supported. As Chair of the House Oversight Committee and Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Congresswoman Maloney and Congressman Nadler continue to lead advocacy on highlighting the emerging needs of responders, survivors and their families for the City of New York. To that end, I would like to invite your offices to a meeting with my team, so we can determine the best path forward. We sincerely appreciate your concerns and your interest in the continued support of New Yorkers and those affected by the 9/11 attacks. I look forward to ongoing collaboration.

While the letter’s tone was promising, when the staff of the Members of Congress met with the City’s lawyers, they were reportedly told that no information would be released unless the Members of Congress got the law changed limiting the City’s liability to zero.

As of the 21st Anniversary in 2022, Mayor Adams was still refusing to overrule his lawyers and release the documents.

On February 16th 2023, Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Dan Goldman wrote a new letter to Mayor Adams, again urging him to overrule the City’s lawyers and to open up the City’s records as to what the Giuliani Administration knew about the toxins Here is their press release.

Here is an excerpt of their letter.

We are writing to you again to renew the request that the City of New York finally, after more than 20 years, fully disclose what the Giuliani Administration knew about the harmful impacts of the toxins released in the 9/11 attacks, the subsequent cleanup, and when it knew this information.

This letter is to follow up on letters sent to then-Mayor DeBlasio on September 20, 2021, and to you on May 12, 2022, asking the City to finally open its files on the aftermath of the attacks—and help provide injured and ill 9/11 responders, survivors, and their families a better understanding of the origins of what they have faced.

On March 22, 2023, Mayor Adams responded to Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Dan Goldman’s February 16th letter, denying their request that the City of New York finally open up the City’s records as to what the Giuliani Administration knew about the toxins.

Here is the Mayor’s response and the attachments he provided:

911 Health Watch Inc Files Freedom of Information Request

On Friday September 8, 2023, 911 Health Watch Inc. announced it was filing a Freedom of Information Request with the City of New York on behalf of a group of 911 responders and survivors’ families seeking records and documents as to what the administration of then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani knew about the health impact of the toxins at Ground Zero and when did they know it.

911 Health Watch FOIL Request Here.

With the pro bono assistance of the Law Offices of Andrew J. Carboy LLC and Turken Heath & McCauley LLP the request filed on behalf of Benjamin Chevat, Director of 9/11 Health Watch; Karen Klingon, Executrix of the Estate of Robert Klingon (resident of lower Manhattan); Yvonne Baisley, Executrix of the Estate of FDNY Firefighter Robert Fitzgibbon; Phil Alvarez, on behalf of his brother NYPD Detective Luis G. Alvarez; Charlotte Berwind, Executrix of the Estate of volunteer firefighter Charles E. Flickinger, Jr. is seeking records, documents, reports, for the time period including the lead up to the attack, the months after the attack and recent reviews by the current administration of these documents.

In particular the FOIL ask for the October 2001 memorandum from Deputy Mayor Robert M. Harding referenced in the New York Times article, “Ground Zero Illnesses Clouding Giuliani’s Legacy.”(Anthony DePalma, May 14th, 2007)

Underlying documents, studies, reports, assessments, memoranda, factual bases and other written information that informed the Harding memo’s estimate or projection of anticipated future claims from WTC toxic exposure.

All documents setting forth the names and titles of recipients of the Harding memo in 2001 and 2002 among other documents outlined in the FOIL request.

These files that are being requested are afforded no legal protection from disclosure, and are of great public interest. The files may even answer long-held questions about the City’s advance preparation for a terrorist attack, including the modeling of toxic releases from a major building collapse, and the City’s knowledge of actual air quality, all the while assuring the public that the air was safe.

Under FOIL, the City’s “records are presumptively open to public inspection, without regard to need or purpose of the applicant.” Beechwood Restorative Care Ctr. v. Signor, 5 N.Y.3d 435, 440–41, 842 N.E.2d 466, 469 (2005)

The City’s objections, raised to Representatives Nadler and Goldman, are without legal basis.

The City argued against the disclosure, citing other “public data” concerning 9/11 toxins, exposures and illnesses. (Mayor Adams’ March 22, 2023 letter to Reps. Nadler and Goldman). That other data, concerning 9/11 toxins and exposure risks has long been available to the public concerning 9/11 toxins, exposures and consequent illnesses, information detailed in the Mayor’s letter, is not a basis to deny the requests.

New York Courts have long held that “all government records are presumptively open for public inspection unless specifically exempted from disclosure as provided in the Public Officers Law Sec. 87(2).” Fappiano v. New York City Police Dep’t, 95 N.Y.2d 738, 746, 747 N.E.2d 1286, 1289 (2001)

To date, the City has cited no specific exemption enabling it to withhold the documents.

Further, that the release of documents poses “litigation risks,” a concern of Mayor Adams raised in his March 22nd letter, is no basis to deny a FOIL request. The City seeks “federal legislation” to make disclosure “economically and legally feasible,” guaranteeing additional protections from lawsuits. (March 22, 2023 letter)

That the City may incur expenses in complying with the request is also not a basis for denial.

Finally, although FOIL exempts from disclosure communications between government agencies, such exemption does not apply to “instructions to staff that affect the public” and “final agency policy or determinations.” All the materials sought concern matters affecting the public. Public Officers Law § 87 [2][g]. The coalition also challenges the City’s determination, articulated in the days following September 11th, that environmental quality allowed the safe reopening of public schools, financial markets and businesses, as well the return of thousands of lower Manhattan residents to their apartments.

The City’s objection to the public release of the 9/11 archive stems from fear of liability claims substantiated by the archive’s contents. This self-concern stands in stark contrast to the example of thousands, who served the public bravely and without hesitation, in the hours, days, and weeks after the attacks—raising no objection and seeking no financial benefit. Twenty-two years later, the City should honor their service, and the truth, by making full disclosure.

On January 16th, 2024, the N.Y.C. Office of Emergency Management (OEM) denied our FOIL request and on January 31, 2024 the N.Y.C. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also denied our FOIL request.

Both denials stated

A diligent search for records responsive to your request did not locate any such records. Accordingly, your request is denied.

As our appeal of this determination that we filed on February 13th, 2024 made clear for the OEM denial:

We appeal the denial for two reasons. First, OEM failed to appropriately “certify that it does not have possession of such record or that such record cannot be found after diligent search.” N.Y. Pub. Off. Law § 89 (McKinney) Instead, OEM offers a boilerplate response, devoid of detail concerning any search, and lacking certification. The denial is improper and conclusory, violative of New York’s Public Officers Law.

Second, the public record is replete with references to the leading role OEM assumed in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. For OEM to deny the subject FOIL request, entirely, decades later, is a repudiation of its well-documented leadership following the World Trade Center collapse. This 2024 denial is wholly at odds with the public historical record from decades ago.

And for the DEP denial:

We appeal the denial for two reasons. First, DEP failed to appropriately “certify that it does not have possession of such record or that such record cannot be found after diligent search.” N.Y. Pub. Off. Law § 89 (McKinney) Instead, DEP offers a boilerplate response, devoid of detail concerning any search, and lacking certification. The denial is improper and conclusory, violative of New York’s Public Officers Law.

Second, the public record demonstrates that DEP maintains the requested materials.

To date, the City’s public information website boasts of DEP’s leading role in lower Manhattan. “By the evening of September 11th, the City’s Department of…Environmental Protection began to assess environmental conditions and what protections would be necessary.” (https://www.nyc.gov/site/911health/about/historical-context.page) Obviously, those assessments included the test results sought in the Freedom of Information request.

As our appeal makes clear this denial should be reversed by the City.

DOCUMENTS

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST

Tuesday February 13th, 2024, 911 Health Appeal of Denial of FOIL

Friday September 8th, 2023, 911 Health Watch FOIL Request

PRESS RELEASES

September 8th, 2023, 911 Health Watch Press Release

“Ground Zero Illnesses Clouding Giuliani’s Legacy”
By Anthony DePalma, May 14, 2007
Anyone who watched Rudolph W. Giuliani preside over ground zero in the days after 9/11 glimpsed elements of his strength: decisiveness, determination, self-confidence.

LETTERS

September 20th, 2021, Letter to Mayor DeBlasio
May 12th, 2022, Letter to Mayor Adams
July 6th, 2022, Letter from Mayor Adams to Members of Congress
February 16th, 2023, Letter to Mayor Adams
March 22nd, 2023, NYC Response

NEWS ARTICLES

NYC agencies say they have no data on 9/11 toxins — ‘preposterous,’ reply Ground Zero victims’ advocates
NY Daily News | February 19, 2024

An attempt to learn more about the deadly toxins kicked into New York City’s atmosphere after the 9/11 terror attacks has so far been shut down by city government.

9/11 families urge City to release data on long-term health impacts stemming from World Trade Center attack
amNY | September 11, 2023

The coalition requests information about hazardous substances contained in World Trade Center buildings.

9/11 health group files Freedom of Information request on Rudy Giuliani and toxic air at Ground Zero
NY Daily News | September 8, 2023

“Twenty-two years is too long to not know the truth,” said Benjamin Chevat, the group’s executive director.

“You’re as Sick as Your Secrets”: Will Eric Adams Be the Mayor Who Releases 9/11 Docs?
Vanity Fair | September 7, 2023

Twenty-two years ago Mayor Adams, as he frequently mentions, was a cop who served at the World Trade Center site after the attacks.

Reps. Nadler and Goldman call on NYC Mayor Eric Adams to release Giuliani Administration Records on the City’s Knowledge of the Scope of the Health Threats to 9/11 Responders and Survivors
Rep. Nadler, Goldman | February 16th, 2023

NADLER, MALONEY PRESS CITY FOR 9/11 DOCUMENTS ON AIR-QUALITY HAZARDS
The Chief-Leader | September 28, 2021
9/11 World Trade Center health advocates from first-responder unions and the lower Manhattan neighborhood supported the call for the city to disclose all documents.

MALONEY & NADLER REQUEST GIULIANI ADMIN DOCUMENTS ON 9/11 TOXINS
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney | September 20, 2021
“The time has come for a full accounting of the history of 9/11.”

MALONEY, NADLER ASK NYC MAYORS WHAT THEY KNEW ABOUT HEALTH HAZARDS AT GROUND ZERO
NY Daily News | September 20, 2021
The new letter suggests that at least two members of Congress do not believe the administrations of Giuliani and his successor, Michael Bloomberg, delivered all the goods.

NYC REFUSING TO RELEASE 9/11 RECORDS WITHOUT LAWSUIT IMMUNITY
NY Post | September 10, 2022
The stubborn stance comes as two New York Congress members demand the mayor release all records kept under wraps since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

REPS. MALONEY, NADLER CALL ON MAYOR ADAMS TO DISCLOSE CITY RECORDS ON GOVERNMENTAL KNOWLEDGE OF THE SCOPE OF THE HEALTH THREATS TO 9/11 RESPONDERS AND SURVIVORS
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney | May 12, 2022
Congressmembers Carolyn B. Maloney and Jerrold Nadler asked Mayor Adams to release “any documents related to 9/11 from the period of September 11, 2001 through the spring of 2002.”

N.Y. LAWMAKERS ASK NYC MAYOR ADAMS FOR HELP IN GETTING ANSWERS ABOUT GROUND ZERO TOXINS
NY Daily News | May 12, 2022
The city had never given a full accounting of what the mayor and his team knew about the situation, and when they knew it, the lawmakers say.

NYC MAYOR ADAMS TO WORK WITH REPS. MALONEY, NADLER ABOUT WHAT CITY HALL KNEW ABOUT GROUND ZERO TOXIC AIR AFTER 9/11
NY Daily News | July 11, 2022
In a letter, the mayor invited their offices to discuss their long-standing request for a full accounting of the city’s actions and knowledge about the dangerous environment in lower Manhattan.

PRESSURE MOUNTS ON CITY TO COME CLEAN WITH 9/11 WTC FILES
LaborPress | July 15, 2022
In 2003, the EPA Inspector General was harshly critical of how the EPA downplayed and actually misrepresented the hazards in and around the World Trade Center site. 

NYC CONCERNED ABOUT LAWSUITS AFTER RELEASE OF POST-9/11 MEMOS ABOUT TOXIC AIR AT GROUND ZERO
NY Daily News | August 1, 2022
Municipal attorneys said they might release the undisclosed material, but only if the lawmakers met three eyebrow-raising demands.

EDITORIALS IN SUPPORT

Release NYC’s secret WTC files
NY Daily News | September 11, 2023
Mr. Mayor, having been a working cop on 9/11 at the WTC, you can hand over the records now or wait until your lawyers lose in court.

Mayor Adams, open the WTC records: The Ground Zero files held by New York City must be released
NY Daily News | April 10, 2023
The truth must come out and now, as mayor, Adams must open up the city’s files regarding the disaster.

OPEN THE NYC 9/11 FILES: THE CITY MUST RELEASE ITS ARCHIVES ON AIR QUALITY DURING THE RESCUE AND RECOVERY EFFORTS
NY Daily News | August 4, 2022
Lawyers for the City of New York are sitting on a hidden library of documents about the environmental and health hazards from Ground Zero dating back to 2001 that must be published.

Last updated: February 19, 2024