Report Confirms Problems with EPA WTC Indoor Test and Clean Program

Prepared at the request of Sen. Hillary Clinton D-N.Y., as well as Congress members Jerrold Nadler D-N.Y. and Carolyn Maloney D-N.Y., a recently released Government Accountability Office (GAO) report detailed serious flaws in EPA's second program seeking to address the indoor contamination resulting from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC), as well as the agency's ability to deal with future disasters involving indoor environmental impacts.

“EPA and the Bush administration ignored the advice of scientific experts, dragged their heels and failed to produce a real program to test for and clean up toxic World Trade Center dust in people's homes and offices,” Clinton said. “We need a new clean up program from EPA and a renewed commitment to be better prepared for future disasters.”

Released on Sept. 5, the report noted that the program was inadequately financed and poorly implemented. Most disturbingly, the GAO report says the EPA cleanup program has not been made available to every household contaminated with toxic World Trade Center dust following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In addition, GAO said testing should have been extended to people living in Brooklyn and parts of Manhattan farther away from Ground Zero. The report also said EPA was wrong to have left the job of testing workplaces to other federal agencies and found that EPA ignored the advice of its own technical experts - members of the “EPA World Trade Center Technical Review Panel” - in the development of the plan, with 16 out of 18 of the panel members not endorsing the plan. Further, the independent analysis concluded that EPA's early inaction led to its total failure, to date, to properly “characterize” the extent of the WTC contamination and that EPA officials misled the public when they mischaracterized the results of earlier asbestos testing. EPA's first post-9/11 testing and clean up program, conducted in 2002 and 2003, also had similar failures and was forcefully criticized by EPA's own Inspector General (IG). The second program also didn't live up to one of the recommendations made by the IG: to develop an approach to determine or “characterize” the actual extent of the World Trade Center contamination in the New York metro area.

Looking forward, the report also warns that EPA is not prepared to respond to future disasters that have an indoor contamination component because EPA has still “not developed protocols on how and when to collect data to determine the extent of indoor contamination.”

The GAO report makes several recommendations for EPA, namely, that it should communicate risks to the public by presenting environmental data in a clear and appropriate context, create guidelines for estimating program costs and swiftly develop protocols that specifically address indoor contamination. GAO notes that if EPA continues to fail in its responsibility, “important public health needs, including resident and worker health, may not be promptly addressed.”

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