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Emergency Response: Nadler Says Workplaces Neglected In World Trade Center Dust Cleanup
By John Herzfeld, BNA Daily Environment Report, February 11, 2003

NEW YORK--Conditions in workplaces and other indoor spaces near the site of the destruction of the World Trade Center are still being neglected nearly a year and a half after the disaster, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Feb. 10. Renewing previous assertions that the Environmental Protection Agency had failed to assume its legally required leadership role in the cleanup, Nadler contended that EPA officials had "lied about knowing who is in charge" of cleaning up dust contamination in indoor spaces. At a news conference, he presented evidence he said showed that agency officials "have finally admitted" that EPA is legally responsible for the indoor cleanup.

When EPA announced an interagency cleanup plan in May 2002, Nadler maintained that the step was an overdue "reversal" of the agency's earlier deference to the city Health and Environmental Protection departments (91 DEN A-4, 5/10/02 ). But EPA Region II Administrator Jane M. Kenny suggested then that the agency's delegation of specific responsibilities to the city did not mean that it had given up its leadership role.

At the news conference, Nadler presented testimony given by EPA Assistant Administrator Marianne Lamont Horinko at a Jan. 6 administrative law hearing on a challenge to the agency's December 2000 dismissal of Hugh Kaufman as an investigator in its ombudsman's office. In that testimony, Nadler said, Horinko "admitted under oath that the EPA is indisputably legally responsible for all hazardous material testing and remediation indoors after a terrorist attack."

Critics of the agency's response to the disaster have argued that EPA was not assuming its legally mandated role under the National Contingency Plan and a 1998 presidential decision directive (PDD 62) for responding to acts of terrorism. Nadler maintained that Horinko's testimony contradicted statements by EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman that the question of responsibility was "murky." Nadler also said the city Department of Environmental Protection had mishandled its responsibilities after having been "illegally placed in charge" by EPA.

Presenting data obtained under a freedom-of-information request by the New York Environmental Law & Justice Project, Nadler said the city had received indoor environmental quality reports from only 218 out of 1,900 downtown buildings below Canal Street. Even those replies to a Feb. 12, 2002, city request to landlords included many incomplete or inadequate reports, and DEP "has not issued a single citation" for failure to respond to the request, Nadler said. In one instance, he reported, a landlord's reply consisted of simply reporting that the building's windows had been closed during the disaster and there had been "a minimum" of dust infiltration.

Nadler also argued that many other buildings north of Canal Street and across the East River in Brooklyn had been subjected to the trade center dust plume but were not covered by any cleanup plan.

EPA Responds

In an EPA statement, Kenny denied that the agency's policies have stood in the way of proper cleanup. "As EPA has stated from the start, any indoor space--residential or commercial--that was impacted by the collapse of the World Trade Center, should have been properly cleaned using the techniques of wet wiping, wet mopping, and vacuuming with specially equipped HEPA vacuums," she said.

Preliminary results of a study the agency is conducting of those techniques "find them to be very effective in removing dust and debris, and reducing the risk from any residual dust becoming airborne," Kenny said. She added that EPA "has consistently recommended" professional cleaning for residential and commercial spaces that were "significantly impacted."

Restating the agency's position that "the long-term risk from exposure to residual dust from the World Trade Center is low," Kenny said EPA has been conducting an indoor cleanup program "to provide lower Manhattan residents with the issurance that their homes have been properly cleaned." Initial testing results found that asbestos levels for "only 17 of the nearly 1,600 apartments" in that program exceeded a "very stringent health standard" being applied, she said.

Kenny said EPA, together with the city and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had focused on residential cleanup "because lower Manhattan residents are most in need of assistance." She added that "families spend the majority of their time in their homes" and many households "had only limited ways to pay for cleanup services." She also cited the availability of "a variety" of assistance programs for commercial establishments and private insurance held by many commercial building owners to cover cleanup costs. In addition, she said, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will investigate worker complaints.

Officials of the city DEP could not be reached for comment.

'Evasion and Delay'

The eighth congressional district of New York, which Nadler represents, includes the trade center site, surrounding West Side communities, and part of Brooklyn. His complaints about EPA and city environmental response led to a Feb. 11, 2002, Senate field hearing where city officials pledged new steps to address the indoor air issue (29 DEN AA-1, 2/12/02).

Workplaces have been left out of the EPA cleanup plan without any apparent scientific and legal basis, charged Joel Shufro, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a union and public health group. He said his group's inquiries to the agency "have been treated with evasion and delay bordering on contempt."

In the absence of regulatory pressure, some employers have "acted responsibly" to deal with contamination issues and others have not, Shufro said at the news conference. "We are here to demand that EPA revise its plan and include workplaces as a necessary and integral part of its program."

Problems in Downtown Manhattan

Arguing that downtown Manhattan continues to show signs of workplace contamination despite official assurances that the area's air is safe to breathe, Nadler was joined by union representatives complaining of inadequate workplace leanups, workers with lingering respiratory illness, and business owners who said their insurance recoveries have been blocked by EPA's position on the risks of the contamination. "We cannot again bury our heads in the sand," Nadler said. "Just because we cannot necessarily see the contaminants of concern, that does not mean they aren't still there and does not mean we should go back to business as usual."

Among the workplaces where contamination remains a concern, the union representatives said, are the relocated New York office of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a Manhattan community college, and several of the city's firehouses. "In the eyes of the world, we're heroes, but in EPA's eyes, we're nothing," complained Rudy Sanfilipo, a Uniformed Firefighters Association trustee. Nadler further warned that failure to properly test and remediate the area will open the city and state to "tremendous future financial costs" from legal liability for occupational disease, as well as related lost productivity.


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