Critics: EPA Should 'Do its Job' on 3rd Anniversary of Damning Internal Report

Aug. 29, 2006
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and members of the New York Congressional Delegation joined with the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) and labor representatives, environmental groups, community activists and local elected officials to denounce what they see as the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) continued failure to conduct a necessary testing and cleanup program in the aftermath of 9/11.

On the 3-year anniversary of the EPA's Inspector General issuing of a damning report regarding the agency's failure to protect the public's health in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks, the group sent a letter to the agency.

In the letter, 17 members of the New York Congressional delegation, as well as Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, called on the EPA to "comply with the findings of the EPA Inspector General's (IG) Report issued three years ago on Aug. 21, 2003" and "make a full and complete disclosure to the public about the health risks associated with World Trade Center contamination, and institute a proper testing and cleanup program for all buildings contaminated by the terrorist attacks."

The 2003 Inspector General's Report detailed misleading and falsely assuring statements made by EPA officials about air quality post 9/11, and specifically cited White House interference as a major factor in those statements. It also found that the agency's 2002 "Indoor Air Residential Cleanup Program" was deeply flawed in design, too limited in scope, utilized inadequate testing and cleanup methods, and did not meet "the minimum criteria for protecting human health the EPA established…."

"As the lead federal agency for protecting public health and the environment, the EPA should have, from the beginning, led the efforts to respond to the unprecedented environmental catastrophe we experienced on 9/11," said Congressman Nadler. "Instead, the residents, workers and school children have had to endure EPA's outright deceptions, so-called 'cleanup plans' totally lacking scientific merit, and inexcusable delays that have endangered the health and lives of countless people. To this day, we still do not have the comprehensive indoor testing and cleanup program that is so desperately needed, and that the EPA's own Inspector General called for in 2003."

In response to the publication of the IG Report, which was brought after nearly 2 years of pressure from Congressman Nadler, Senator Clinton and labor and community activists, the EPA agreed to establish the "World Trade Center Expert Technical Review Panel." The panel's goal was to develop a scientifically sound and technically feasible plan to determine the extent of remaining indoor contamination resulting from the collapse of the World Trade Center and clean it up.

After 20 months of work, EPA unilaterally disbanded the panel last fall. Shortly thereafter, EPA announced a new testing and cleanup plan that critics claim ignored input from its own panel members, residents, workers and the community and fundamentally failed to correct the major problems identified by the Inspector General in 2003. The new program has yet to be implemented.

"It has been three years since the EPA Inspector General issued a report showing that EPA issued misleading statements regarding air quality levels in lower Manhattan following the World Trade Center attacks, and that their indoor testing and cleanup program was flawed," said Senator Clinton, "And as we approach the fifth anniversary of the attacks, it is long past time for EPA to do the right thing. New Yorkers deserve a testing and cleanup program that will give them accurate information about the health risks associated with World Trade Center contamination."

Joel Shufro, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, noted that the "very EPA that said the air downtown is safe to breathe is the same EPA that said that workers and their employers were on their own. EPA would not test workplaces; it would not clean up workplaces; it would not even set a minimum acceptable level of cleanliness for workplaces. Today, thanks to EPA, we have literally no idea how many workers are still being exposed to 9/11 contamination and we have no idea how it may affect them. It is not too late to test and clean workplaces if necessary. We demand that EPA establish a science-based benchmark, and clean every workplace that does not come up to it."

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