Agencies Announce Actions to Address Lower Manhattan Air Quality Issues

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with New York City and other federal and state agencies yesterday announced additional actions they plan to take to address outdoor and indoor air quality concerns in Lower Manhattan.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with New York City and other federal and state agencies, yesterday announced additional actions they plan to take to address outdoor and indoor air quality concerns in Lower Manhattan.

As part of the overall effort to continue to protect air quality, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will remove residual debris from rooftops and facades with EPA''s guidance, and OSHA will work in a coordinated effort with the city and EPA to ensure the safety and health of the workers performing this cleaning. In addition, agencies will work to build on an indoor air study conducted in November and December.

These actions are a result of the collaborative efforts of EPA Administrator Christie Whitman''s Task Force on Indoor Air and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg''s Lower Manhattan Air Quality Task Force. They also are probably the result of pressure applied by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Congressman Jerrold Nader (D-NY), who released a scathing White Paper this month that he claims "gives the full-scale damning account of what is currently known about the EPA''s reckless and illegal response to the indoor air quality situation since Sept. 11th." Groups such as the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health have been lobbying for a more thorough examination of the situation and better protections for cleanup workers in the area. Even the EPA ombudsman, Robert Martin, has gotten involved, holding a hearing on Feb. 23 to allow people living and working in Lower Manhattan to ask questions of federal, state and local officials (none of whom showed up).

Before he held the February meeting, Martin threatened to tell attendees: "Residents, workers and Ground Zero platform visitors should wear respirators because of toxic air around the World Trade Center site and it would take multibillions of dollars to do what needs to be done in Manhattan."

EPA claims that tests conducted since Sept. 11th have indicated that there is "no evidence of significant long-term health risks to residents and office workers from the air quality in Lower Manhattan." Inspectors from the city and EPA surveyed area rooftops and facades, identifying buildings where residual debris remains.

"Actions speak louder than words, and these actions will help increase confidence about outdoor and indoor air quality," said Jane Kenny, EPA regional administrator. "We have been working hand-in-hand with the city to resolve the public''s health concerns."

City, state and federal health and environmental agencies are working collaboratively to continue to assess the cleaning that was conducted and determine testing criteria. Building on earlier tests, EPA will conduct fieldwork to assess cleanup techniques and provide information for ongoing cleaning. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, with support from the New York City Department of Health and EPA, is planning to expand the indoor air study conducted in December 2001.

As these projects are developed, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will fund components that are eligible under its programs. As the agency responsible for coordinating federal assistance in support of the city''s long-term recovery efforts, FEMA is working closely with all concerned agencies.

The Lower Manhattan Air Quality Hotline (212-221-8635) continues to be the principal point of information dissemination to businesses, residents and visitors regarding air quality and environmental issues in and around the World Trade Center site. The city''s task force will also coordinate additional community outreach and local initiatives as part of the broader effort to build public confidence in the downtown environment.

For more information, call the city''s Lower Manhattan Air Quality Hotline at (212) 221-8635 between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. In addition, information can be found on EPA''s Web site at www.epa.gov; OSHA''s web site at www.osha.gov; NYC Department of Health''s Web site at www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/doh/home.htm; and NYC DEP''s Web site at www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/airmonit.html.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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