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AFTER DISASTERS chronicles the devastating environmental and health impacts of 9/11 and the BP oil disaster, and their cover-ups.

Lisa Katzman has set the bar high for others to emulate, when making a documentary.  "After Disasters" captures the aftermath of disasters, and shows the resolve in individuals who are affected by these disasters. I am humbled to be part of this amazing woman's vision and passion. — John Feal, Founder and President, Fealgood Foundation   

When the media leaves, that's when the real trouble begins. Finally, a film that captures the trauma and ongoing effects of disaster.  — Hugh Kaufman,  EPA Senior Policy Analyst

AFTER DISASTERS explores the devastating health, environmental, and social consequences of two of the worst man-made disasters in American history — 9/11, and the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The film details how the denials and deceptions on the part by politicians, corporations, and regulatory agencies compounded the effects of these disasters. The resulting “after-disasters” include avoidable and deadly assaults on human health, the environment, and the social fabric of communities, as well as the all-too-common and nightmarish experience for growing numbers of Americans: debilitating disaster-related illnesses that often go unrecognized, undiagnosed, or untreated for years due to the widespread denial of the toxic conditions that caused them.

We investigate how widespread public deceptions set the terms for both the media’s coverage of the effects of disasters, and later public policy decisions regarding disaster management, environmental remediation, and eventually, the egregiously inadequate and unjust terms of health care and compensation. These conditions lead to intensified trauma for disaster survivors, unraveling families and communities, and causing long-term environmental degradation.

But AFTER DISASTERS is primarily the story of the courageous and moving battles fought by disaster survivors and stakeholders in New York City and the Gulf Coast region for health care and compensation, environmental and social justice, and greater transparency and implementation of regulatory laws designed to protect the public and environment.

AFTER DISASTERS exposes how corporations and political agendas profit from disasters. We show that the downplaying of public health impacts and of environmental degradation are driven by powerful special interests and politics—to the extent of crippling federal and local regulatory agencies in their capacity to fulfill their mandates to protect American citizens and the environment.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman assured the public that the air was safe and that the unprecedented array of toxins in the atmosphere “didn’t pose a problem” to public health. Consequently, thousands of first responders, demolition, and construction workers who toiled at least twelve hours a day for six months at Ground Zero did not receive proper protective gear or health information. Thousands of these individuals are suffering today from debilitating illnesses, including severe respiratory and pulmonary ailments, and aggressive cancers.

Along the Gulf Coast, a similarly tragic situation has been unfolding since BP’s Macondo well exploded on April 20, 2010, causing the release of at least 250 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico — the greatest environmental disaster in American history. Instead of employing state of the art tankers to skim the oil from the surface — a standard practice when oil spills occur around the world —  BP (with, in due course, the EPA’s endorsement) sprayed a highly toxic chemical called Corexit over the spill site. Rather than clean the Gulf of oil, the primary effect of the dispersant was to conceal the oil from view. By vastly reducing the visual appearance of oil, BP could argue to lessen its liability. Over a period of six months BP used over two million gallons of Corexit, spraying it from planes, and at subsea levels, a method that had never been utilized before, and was described by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson as an “experiment.”

In its pure state Corexit, which is banned in nineteen countries, is known to be mutagenic, carcinogenic, and an endocrine disrupter; when mixed with oil, the resulting compound is six times more toxic than either substance is alone. Unlike oil, Corexit does not naturally biodegrade. Due to the enormous quantity that was used in the Gulf, scientists have found that it remains suspended in the water column where it is consumed by plankton, the foundation of all sea life. Not surprisingly, Corexit has quickly worked its way up the food chain. The FDA and EPA have responded to this toxic crisis by simply raising the allowable limits on toxicity in Gulf seafood to unprecedented, dangerous levels. They also submit Gulf seafood to frivolous tests designed not to detect toxicity, like the ludicrous “sniff” test. Though both BP and the media have downplayed its destructive impacts in the Gulf and its coastal communities, Corexit and crude oil have caused massive fish kills and the deaths of untold numbers of dolphins, sea turtles, birds, fish, corral reefs, and other aquatic creatures that make their home in the Gulf of Mexico.

In humans (and other mammals), exposure to oil and Corexit fumes has caused a broad range of ailments, including respiratory and breathing problems, uncontrollable vomiting, rectal bleeding, headaches, bleeding from the ears and nose, hives, rashes, burning and painful lesions, severe abdominal cramps, irreparable neurological damage, internal hemorrhaging, liver and kidney damage, memory loss, brain lesions, cancer, miscarriages, birth defects, dementia, and death.

As at Ground Zero, clean-up workers in the Gulf were deprived of appropriate and federally mandated protective gear by BP and its subcontractors, provisions that would have curtailed the worst of the disastrous health impacts from exposure to a highly poisonous mixture of fumes from  250 million gallons of crude oil, 2 million gallons of Corexit, 500,000 tons of methane gas (released during the spill), and toxic smoke from over 40 “controlled burns.”  As in the post- 9/11 circumstances, the EPA failed to do adequate air sampling, or inform the public of adverse health risks. And in failing to curtail the use of Corexit, the agency is directly implicated in the negative long-term health effects. A lawsuit has been filed in the last month by the Surfrider Foundation and The Center for Biological Diversity against the EPA that cites this failure as a breach of the agency’s mandate.

These issues and themes unfold in AFTER DISASTERS through the gripping stories of disaster survivors and stakeholders both in New York City and the Gulf Coast region. The film’s central characters include the highly charismatic 9/11 first responder John Feal and members of his FealGood Foundation whom we follow during the final months of their tenacious fight for the passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act; Alex Sanchez, a 9/11 clean-up worker who suffers from severe respiratory problems but works tirelessly behalf of a large group of Latino workers suffering from a variety of debilitating illnesses since being employed as clean-up workers at Ground Zero; Anthony Flammia, a former New York Police Department Officer who was forced to retire when he developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and acute pulmonary symptoms five years after working at Ground Zero, and is now passionately devoted helping other sick 9/11 first responders through the Fealgood Foundation ; and Kimberly Flynn, co-founder of 9/11 Environmental Action and an eloquent advocate for the health care of residents, workers, and children impacted by 9/11 toxicity.

In the Gulf region we are introduced to Kindra Arneson, a mother and wife of a fisherman, who boldly challenges BP’s decision to spray the highly toxic dispersant Corexit in her Gulf coast community and demands the creation of mobile health units to treat children and workers sick from toxic exposures; Cheri Foytlin, a passionate Gulf coast environmental activist, whom we follow on her 1200 mile walk from New Orleans to Washington D.C. to raise national public awareness about the environmental and health impacts of the BP oil disaster and the need to ban Corexit from use in future U.S. oil spills; Sean Kelley, a former boat captain and BP clean-up worker who suffered severe neurological damage from doing clean-up work in the Gulf; and Paul Doom, a Gulf resident who developed seizures, brain lesions, and other symptoms of toxic poisoning from crude oil and Corexit after swimming in the Gulf.

In addition to telling the stories of these and other characters, AFTER DISASTERS incorporates interviews with experts, including environmental attorney Joel Kupferman; Representatives Jerome Nadler and Carolyn Maloney who helped write the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act; chemists Wilma Subra and Bob Naman; and EPA Senior Policy Analyst and whistleblower Hugh Kaufman, among others. Mr. Kaufman sheds light on the inner political workings of the EPA, and explains how former Administrator Whitman disbanded the Ombudsman’s function shortly after Kaufman and former Ombudsman Robert Martin held independent hearings on 9/11 in lower Manhattan, at which they received first responder and citizen testimony that contradicted Whitman’s earlier claims that conditions at Ground Zero and in lower Manhattan were “safe.”

As AFTER DISASTERS will show, the loss of the Ombudsman position, and the independent oversight the Ombudsman wielded has played a critical role in EPA instances of regulatory failure over the past decade.  Prior to 9/11, the Ombudsman operated as a powerful check against the influential interests of the energy industry, mediating conflicts of interest that arose between the agency and the industries it regulates, and also acting as an advocate for citizen grievances against corporate polluters. In the decade since the Ombudsman function was eliminated, the EPA has become increasingly subject to the control of special interests, and American citizens have lost an avenue for redressing environmental violations and their life-threatening health effects. Kaufman’s whistleblower revelations in AFTER DISASTERS are a scathing indictment of a regulatory system that is not only broken, but often does more harm than good in offering the public misleading information that has repeatedly caused grievous harm to public health and the environment.

It is precisely for these reasons that both 9/11 and Gulf Coast first responders, workers, and residents have been forced to the front lines of these urgent environmental, health, and social justice battles. At this critical moment in our nation's debate on the limits and responsibilities of government, AFTER DISASTERS provides a complex and penetrating exploration of the lives of disaster survivors who are courageously confronting and exposing our government's dysfunctional regulatory agencies, demanding implementation of existing federal regulations rather than corporate favoritism, and insisting on truth, transparency, and justice instead of lies, ethically dubious policies, and disaster profiteering.  In doing so, these individuals and many grassroots groups are helping to re-define the social contract between American citizens, government, and corporate interests. Finally, though the film takes a highly critical view of the EPA, it does so in the spirit of seeking to support reform and the greater empowerment of regulatory agencies by exposing how deregulation and excessive corporate influence have crippled a vital and necessary branch of the federal government — one that is mandated to protect the rights of citizens, the environment, and democracy. 

The overarching purpose of AFTER DISASTERS is to educate the public about these particular disasters, and the courageous Americans who are fighting to bring about the public policy changes that will prevent a repetition of the same  failures, deceptions, and tragic conditions in the aftermath of future disasters. To this end — beyond telling a complex, powerfully poignant, and timely story — AFTER DISASTERS is intended for use as an advocacy tool by communities, activists, educational institutions, and unions to instigate public policy changes in the following areas:

Immediate stop to the continuous spraying of the highly toxic dispersant Corexit in the Gulf of Mexico.

Support for passage of Representative Jerome Nadler’s bill to BAN the use of Corexit and other toxic dispersants in the United States. 

Support and publicize the need for cancers to be covered by the James Zadroga  9/11 Health and Compensation bill, and to continue to expand coverage to include additional cancers in the future. Support for the inclusion of best environmental medicine practices (including toxicological diagnoses) within the Centers of Excellence that currently serve 9/11 first responders and residents in New York City.

Support the efforts of 9/11 first responders, workers, and residents to extend the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation bill beyond the current period of 5 years to 25 years (as many of the worst types of cancers associated with 9/11 toxins, such as asbestos, don't manifest until 15 -20 years after exposure).

Support for the repeal of existing Oil Pollution Act restrictions limiting the financial liability of oil companies and other corporate polluters in the aftermath of an oil spill or similar toxic disaster.     

Reinstatement and expansion of the defunct EPA Ombudsman function to mediate conflicts of interest between EPA and the industries it regulates, and to provide a channel to redress citizen grievances (related to both disaster and non-disaster environmental violations).

Enforcement of existing environmental laws related to offshore drilling.  Drafting and passage of new regulations to address inadequate oil spill response plans, specifically regarding safety regulations of blow-out preventers, and stiffer penalties for violations and accidents. 

Renegotiation of settlement between BP and Plaintiffs Steering Committee to ensure meaningful long-term health care and compensation for clean-up workers and residents suffering from BP oil disaster related illnesses rather than a 21-year health-monitoring program.

Support for establishing Medical Centers of Excellence in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida to treat those affected by BP oil disaster toxic exposures incorporating best practices for environmental medicine (including toxicological diagnoses).

Commitment on the part of the federal government to dedicate Oil Pollution Act fines recovered from BP to restore the Gulf Coast region.

Approximately 60% of AFTER DISASTERS has been shot. Kickstarter funds will be used to sustain production in New York City and the Gulf Coast region as we continue other fundraising efforts to complete production and post-production. The funds we are seeking through Kickstarter represent a portion of the overall budget. If the funds we raise exceed the goal of $12,000, they will be applied to ongoing production and post-production expenses. Immediate support is crucial, as there are several time-sensitive events that we need to document in the coming months.

These include: The reaction within the 9/11 first responder community to the imminent decision as to whether cancers will be included in the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act; and, in the Gulf, the momentum that is building to renegotiate a recent settlement that was crafted between attorneys representing 150,000 plaintiffs and BP.  Many of these plaintiffs are severely sick, and therefore dissatisfied that the BP settlement provides only for health monitoring over the next 2 years, and NOT medical treatment. This puts clean-up workers and others who are suffering debilitating illnesses in the position of having to sue BP for compensation, a process that is both costly and protracted.

Your financial support and help in spreading the word about the project will make it possible for us to keep documenting these disaster survivors and their important stories that urgently need to be heard. Everyone who contributes any amount will be credited in the end credits of the film. 

AFTER DISASTERS projected completion date is April 20, 2013.  New articles about unfolding events related to the 9/11 community and Gulf Coast disaster survivors can be found at:  http://www.facebook.com/#!/AfterDisasters

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