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Violation Delays WTC
Study: Contract award was flawed, agency says
By Laurie Garrett, Newsday Staff Writer, January 8, 2003
A long-term health study of 200,000 people who lived or worked near the World Trade Center
on Sept. 11 is in limbo. The federal government's General Accounting Office has determined
that the contract process violated federal regulations.
Last week the GAO ordered the federal agency responsible for designing and overseeing the
project to reopen the bidding, a move expected to lead to delays in learning if New
Yorkers experienced health problems as a result of inhaling debris from the World Trade
The Atlanta-based Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the national Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York City Department of Health and Mental
Hygiene designed the outlines of the long-term study early last year, calling for the
inclusion of 100,000 people who lived or worked inside a building that sustained physical
damage on Sept. 11, and another 100,000 who lived or worked that day in lower Manhattan,
below Canal Street. The Federal Emergency Management Agency allotted $20 million for the
Several companies offered bids, and those from Research Triangle Institute in North
Carolina and NORC (National Opinion Research Center) at the University of Chicago received
roughly equal technical merit appraisals. RTI's bid was for $15.8 million; NORC offered
two plans, with price tags of $11 million and $13 million.
In late September, the toxic-substances agency announced it was awarding the contract to
the higher bidder, RTI. "I was in a cab on the way to the airport when I got the
call, telling me the contract was going to RTI for a bid 40 percent above ours," NORC
president Craig Koelen said in an interview. "That is enough of a difference that I
felt we had a reason to ask, 'Was this a rational process?'"
In October, NORC appealed to the GAO. Federal agencies are required to consider "best
value analysis," meaning that when bids are of roughly equal technical merit, the
contract should go to the lower bid. Last week the GAO ruled the guidelines had been
violated. "The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is working with the
General Accounting Office and the Department of Health and Human Services to come to a
resolution of the matter," said Paula Stevens, a spokeswoman for the toxic-substances
agency. She declined to comment further.
Sources told Newsday the survey will be delayed by at least three to four months.
"Because of the importance of this project, the work is under way," RTI
spokesman Reid Maness said in an interview. " ... we really want to make sure that
the project gets off to a good start, no matter who ends up carrying it forward."
Several studies have found that "World Trade Center Cough" had emerged in rescue
workers, fire fighters and Ground Zero construction personnel, and respiratory problems
had been documented in more than half the rescue teams from around the country that aided
Ground Zero operations.
Additionally, Environmental Protection Agency researchers recently documented a rodent
equivalent of WTC cough produced in lab mice exposed to dust collected from the Ground
Zero area on Sept. 12 and 13, 2001.
The study design calls for New Yorkers to review the eligibility criteria and, if they
believe they fit, to file their names with the registry. Each will be contacted, asked to
provide information about his or her residency, employment, proximity to Ground Zero in
the fall of 2001 and health status. Each will be questioned at intervals over subsequent
years. Another approach, requiring participants' pay stubs, mail and other evidence of
employment or residence in the area on Sept. 11, would bolster the study's validity but
also its cost.
"My hope is that CDC and ATSDR will take this opportunity to fix the flaws in the
study's design," City Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn) said in an interview.
"A health study of this kind simply cannot be complete unless it includes people in
downtown Brooklyn and the surrounding areas."
Last month, the EPA issued a report that noted that large, heavy particles of debris fell
immediately around Ground Zero, but that finer, lighter particles were carried to
Brooklyn. "The fact this study is on hold is actually helpful because it will force
re-examination of the whole problem," said Councilman Bill de Blasio, whose Brooklyn
district includes Fort Hamilton.
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