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EPA Throws Up a Stop Sign; Halts Return of WTC Cars

The dust-covered cars sitting at Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island will have to stay parked a while longer, following a request from EPA that New York hold off releasing them to their owners.

The dust-covered cars sitting at Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island will have to stay parked a while longer.

The city of New York planned to start returning some 1,000 cars recovered from the World Trade Center debris today, but the Environmental Protection Agency threw up a roadblock following protests and questions from environmental and citizen groups and the media.

The city planned to release the cars and trucks to owners and insurance companies, despite concerns that the dust covering the cars contained as much as 3 percent asbestos, as well as lead, mercury and other potentially hazardous substances. The owners of the cars and trucks sued the city in February, demanding their return.

"To release cars to owners is highly irresponsible," says Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). On March 14, Nadler wrote a letter to the EPA Administrator Christie Whitman urging her to step in and prevent the release of the cars. On March 15, EPA asked for a meeting with city officials before the cars are released.

Although the city agreed to hold off releasing the cars, Kelly McKinney, associate commissioner for Environmental Health at the New York City Department of Health says the data indicates that there is "no significant risk to human health."

Not everyone agrees. The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), a union-based safety and health organization, has been outspoken in its criticism of the cleanup methods (or lack thereof) utilized in Lower Manhattan, claiming that workers hired to perform the cleanup, as well as area residents and other workers, are being exposed to hazards.

"We think returning the cars is a public hazard," says NYCOSH spokesman Jonathan Bennett. "They''ll go to body shops, they''ll go to garages... the workers who are cleaning these cars are not even going to know they will be faced with the hazard."

Many of the cars have very little damage, and those opposed to the return of the vehicles worry that some owners might just wash them off and try to resell them. The city, when it notified owners they could pick up the cars, sent them a three-page letter of instructions on how to decontaminate the cars. They also informed the owners that the cars could not be driven away, that they had to be covered in tarps and hauled away on flat-bed trucks.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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