Five months after the attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC), the people in Lower Manhattan still do not know whether or not it is safe to live and work in the area, according to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, who represents "Ground Zero."
At a Feb. 11 field hearing in New York City (NYC) organized by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY, other politicians and citizens questioned the way local and federal agencies handled air quality issues stemming from the buildings'' collapse.
"I''m concerned that some testing was done that was not immediately made public," said Clinton at a field hearing she organized in NYC. Clinton focused on the need to fund testing and medical monitoring over the next 20 years for people exposed to the contamination.
Stephen Levin, medical director of the Irving J. Selikoff Clinical Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine at NYC''s Mount Sinai Medical Center, said he has already treated hundreds of workers with respiratory problems stemming from the cleanup effort.
"I''m not convinced that the entire response was well coordinated," worried Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. Lieberman and Clinton are members of the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, and Climate Change, which held the hearing.
But Nadler voiced the bluntest attacks on both local and federal government response to 9/11. Nadler charged:
- EPA Administrator Christie Whitman misled the public on Sept. 18 when she said the air in Lower Manhattan was safe to breathe, without the indoor air data necessary to make such a pronouncement;
- EPA knowingly withheld critical data regarding the causticity of the dust in the area, and making conflicting statements about the presence of hazardous materials;
- EPA delegated authority for testing indoor air quality to NYC, while doing nothing to ensure the response by local officials was appropriate;
- EPA treated NYC differently from other communities contaminated by hazardous materials.
Concern about the level of asbestos and other contaminants inside buildings near the WTC site is at the center of the dispute. Even though, according to Nadler, EPA has the authority to conduct indoor air samples, it delegated this to the New York Department of Health (NYDH).
But NYDH did not begin testing inside homes until November and December, and it says the full results of these tests will not be available until this spring.
A Feb. 8 press release issued by the department intended to pacify an edgy public appears to have backfired. In the current atmosphere of mistrust, many citizens and public officials question why it should take so long to release the results, when other agencies produced data in less than one month.
"The limited data in the press release," Nadler charged, "has caused the scientists with whom we''ve consulted to believe the full results would directly contradict Whitman''s statement [that indoor air is safe]."
Nadler called EPA''s failure to protect public health in Lower Manhattan "shameful, and demanded the agency begin a program of full-scale testing and remediation, and to make all test results available to the public.
"If the EPA fails to act again," Nadler promised, "I will introduce legislation to compel it to do so."
By James Nash