EPA Ombudsman Opens Can of Worms in NY

Feb. 26, 2002
The EPA Ombudsman held a hearing in Manhattan for residents and workers worried that the government wasn't listening to their concerns about WTC contamination, but most of the invited speakers didn't show up.

What do you do when you throw a party and the guests of honor don''t show up? If you''re the ombudsman for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in New York, you have the party anyway.

EPA Ombudsman Robert Martin and Hugh Kaufman, the EPA ombudsman''s lead investigator at the World Trade Center, held a hearing on Saturday for people living and working in Lower Manhattan. the purpose of the hearing was to allow the residents and workers to ask questions of the experts who have studied the environmental and health impact of the collapse of the World Trade Center. Some 200 people showed up, but none of the bureaucrats Kaufman invited.

"We invited the leadership of the EPA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Geological Survey, the governor''s office, state agencies, the mayor''s office and city agencies, but none came," announced Kaufman. "This is the first time this has happened in this type of hearing."

The lack of participants from EPA, FEMA and state and city agencies didn''t stop the other attendees from speaking out.

An industrial hygienist with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) pointed out that early public statements by EPA appear to ignore or contradict information that was readily available to the agency at the time.

"EPA asserted on its Web site on Sept. 21, ''City residents are not being exposed to dangerous contaminants,''" said NYCOSH''s David Newman. "It''s common knowledge extensive quantities of sprayed-on asbestos-containing fireproofing was present in the World Trade Center at the time of its collapse"

He also noted that EPA collected 143 bulk dust samples throughout lower Manhattan in the first days after Sept. 11 and found that 76 percent had detectable levels of asbestos. Of those samples, 34 percent contained greater than 1 percent asbestos by weight, the regulatory definition of asbestos-containing material.

Thomas Cahill, a professor at the University of California-Davis, said he hopes EPA will test for ultra-fine particles. The Detection and Evaluation of Long-range Transport of Aerosols (DELTA) Group at the University of California-Davis analyzed the dust produced by the collapse of the WTC and found that parts of Lower Manhattan were contaminated by a variety of toxic substances, including highest levels of metals ever recorded in the United States.

The group also discovered that most of the respirable particulate matter was smaller than 2.5 microns, a size that can present serious health risks but is not regulated or monitored by EPA.

Newman noted that data taken from buildings at the World Trade Center found the possible presence of arsenic, hydrogen sulfide, ethane, barium, lead, chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, cadmium, mercury, chloroform, chlordane and chromium.

"The message sent out by EPA was that there was no cause for concern and in many instances, workers did not receive specific instruction about personal protective equipment, including types of respirators and filters appropriate for the contaminants to which they were exposed," Newman said. "Respirator use even today among some Ground Zero workers and among most Lower Manhattan cleanup workers remains at unacceptably low and unsafe levels."

Residents who attended the meeting voiced their frustration, many complaining that their apartments are basically unlivable, but that if they choose to move out, they must high penalties to their landlords. One resident said she and her husband cleaned up the common areas of their apartment building and their own apartment using their vacuum cleaner, but their landlord refused to clean the air ducts in the building, which shower them with more dust. They plan to move.

Prior to the meeting, Robert Martin, the EPA ombudsman, 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."

Although he did not say that at the meeting, Martin still seems to be in trouble with his boss. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has ordered Martin''s office to become part of the EPA Inspector-General''s Office, a move Martin claims is being made to silence him. The matter now lies in federal court, where a judge issued an injunction against the move.

In further WTC news, Whitman, responding to pressure from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), agreed to establish an indoor air task force to evaluate air quality in Lower Manhattan.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

Sponsored Recommendations

Free Webinar: ISO 45001 – A Commitment to Occupational Health, Safety & Personal Wellness

May 30, 2024
Secure a safer and more productive workplace using proven Management Systems ISO 45001 and ISO 45003.

ISO 45003 – Psychological Health and Safety at Work

May 30, 2024
ISO 45003 offers a comprehensive framework to expand your existing occupational health and safety program, helping you mitigate psychosocial risks and promote overall employee...

DH Pace, national door and dock provider, reduces TRIR and claims with EHS solution

May 29, 2024
Find out how DH Pace moved from paper/email/excel to an EHS platform, changing their culture. They reduced TRIR from 4.8 to 1.46 and improved their ability to bid on and win contracts...

Case Study: Improve TRIR from 4+ to 1 with EHS Solution and Safety Training

May 29, 2024
Safety training and EHS solutions improve TRIR for Complete Mechanical Services, leading to increased business. Moving incidents, training, and other EHS procedures into the digital...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!