EPA Advisors: Katrina Response Shows Failure To Address 9/11 Concerns

At a meeting on Sept. 28, members of EPA's Science Advisory Board told EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock and Chief Science Advisor Dr. William Farland that the agency's response to Hurricane Katrina indicates that the recommendations made by the agency's inspector general (IG) following 9/11 have not been implemented, despite EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson's contention that the agency has learned its lessons.

SAB members said EPA has not developed methods to evaluate acute exposure hazards following a chemical or biological emergency, despite recommendations following 9/11 that the agency improve its ability to assess such risks.

At a press conference in September, Johnson acknowledged, "One of the lessons learned from post-9/11 is the importance of getting the information [about chemical and biological hazards] out to communities."

Following 9/11, EPA officials claimed that the air near Ground Zero in Manhattan was safe to breathe, even though they lacked the scientific data necessary to back up their statements. The agency was roundly criticized for those claims – which many claim were false and premature – and vowed to make changes. At the time, EPA's IG recommended that EPA develop an emergency sampling plan to be used as a guidance for monitoring environmental conditions after a large-scale disaster such as 9/11 or a hurricane or fire. The IG said the plan should address quality control, objectives of the monitoring program, preferred sampling methods, analytic methods, and more.

Despite those recommendations, SAB members said they were shocked when the agency wanted to meet with them to discuss its sediment sampling plan over Labor Day weekend.

One board member complained that after 4 years of federal emphasis on homeland security, the agency still had not developed sampling plans.

SAB Chair Dr. Granger Morgan, a Carnegie Mellon University professor, called the Hurricane Katrina response an opportunity to get emergency response plans "that would be more appropriate next time around. I would ask that the window not be lost."

Nikki Tinsley, EPA's IG, announced that her office will study the agency's response to Hurricane Katrina – including the quality of health information released to the public and the issuance of environmental waivers – for indications the agency implemented some of the recommendations made following 9/11.

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