Critics Pan EPA's Final Lower Manhattan Testing Program

In the final phase of its response to the events of Sept.11, 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Dec. 6 announced the beginning of a $7 million program to test indoor spaces in Lower Manhattan. The plan was blasted by critics like New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler.

"This new EPA plan is another slap in the face to the residents and workers of Lower Manhattan," said Nadler. "Even though this has been going on for 5 years, it is still shocking how callously the EPA ignores its own experts, and turns a blind eye to the victims of 9/11."

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), which has been lobbying on behalf of workers exposed to the contamination resulting from the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings, issued a statement regarding the plan that says in part, "After conducting one completely ineffective clean-up program in 2002 and then dawdling for nearly 3 years before beginning a program that will allegedly correct the deficiencies of the first effort, EPA has insulted everyone who works, lives or studies in Lower Manhattan by offering a new cleanup plan that is scarcely better than the first one."

NACOSH pointed to EPA's refusal to clean contaminated workplaces, based on the agency's insistence that those buildings already have been cleaned.

"There is not a scintilla of evidence that workplaces are any less likely to be contaminated than residences," said NACOSH in the statement, pointing out that approximately 1,500 commercial and institutional buildings in Lower Manhattan, including offices, schools, government buildings and firehouses, are excluded from the cleanup program. "There is no scientific or legal basis for this exclusion," says the group.

EPA's Region 2 Administrator Alan Steinberg said the agency hopes that the program "will provide peace of mind to people who live and work in Lower Manhattan."

According to Dr. George Gray, assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Research and Development, "The vast majority of occupied residential and commercial spaces in Lower Manhattan have been repeatedly cleaned, and we believe the potential for exposure related to dust that may remain from the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings is low. The Test and Clean Program offers participants a way to get information about the possible presence of contaminants in their homes and buildings."

The program, which covers the areas south of Canal Street and west of Allen and Pike Streets, will allow residents and building owners to have the air and dust in their units tested for four contaminants associated with dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center. Priority for testing will be based on a property's proximity to the World Trade Center site. Through sampling results, EPA will provide information to people who live and work in Lower Manhattan about levels of certain contaminants in their homes or buildings.

If analysis of dust and air samples finds elevated levels of any of four contaminants of concern - asbestos, man-made vitreous fibers such as fiberglass, lead and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons - the contaminants will be cleaned up. The agency will open the 2-month registration period in January 2007. Testing of interior spaces is expected to begin in the spring.

Under the program announced Dec. 6, local residents and owners of commercial or residential buildings closest to Ground Zero will receive priority for testing and cleaning if registration for the program is high. The program is limited to $7 million provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The number of residential and commercials spaces that will be addressed under the program will depend upon a number of factors, including the square footage of the units participating.

The testing and cleanup program is very similar to EPA's 2002 Indoor Air Residential Cleanup Program, except that under the new plan, residences can be tested first and then cleaned, rather than the other way around. Like the 2002 plan, the geographic area is limited to South of Canal Street in Lower Manhattan, and buildings will not be treated as a whole to reduce the threat of recontamination.

A 2003 EPA Inspector General's Report found that EPA's initial cleanup plan was not adequate to comply with federal laws that govern protection of public health and the environment. The IG report recommended that EPA implement a testing program to ensure that the indoor cleanup effectively reduce health risks from all pollutants of concern, and implement a verification program to determine whether previously cleaned residences have been re-contaminated. The IG also recommended expanding the cleanup program to workplaces. The new EPA plan recommends that workers file a complaint with OSHA.

"The EPA is acting as if the last 4 years never happened," said Nadler. "We know that people are sick, and yet the agency is repeating the same mistakes by limiting the plan to a small geographic area, not testing for all contaminants known to be present in WTC dust, not treating buildings as a whole to reduce recontamination and by refusing to take responsibility for commercial buildings. The fact that they're only spending $7 million shows that EPA doesn't intend to do too much."

Pointing out that the EPA WTC Expert Technical Review Panel recommended that workplaces be included in any sampling and cleanup program, NACOSH stated, "We are gravely disappointed by EPA's refusal to carry out its mission 'to protect human health and the environment' and by its failure to address the concerns of working people affected by the WTC collapse. We call on EPA to include places of employment in any 9/11 test and clean program. Our members, our neighbors and our city deserve nothing less."

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