Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Report criticizes EPA actions after World Trade Center attack
By Bruce Geiselman, Waste Headline News, September 1, 2003

WASHINGTON (Sept. 1) -- A new report faults the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its response following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York, and that has prompted several members of Congress to call for federal investigations.

The EPA Inspector Generalīs Office faulted the agency for issuing statements reassuring the public about the safety of the air outside the Ground Zero area. When the EPA made an announcement Sept. 18, 2001, that the air was safe to breathe, it did not have sufficient data and analyses to make such a blanket statement, according to the report released Aug. 21 by Inspector General Nikki Tinsley. "At that time, air monitoring data was lacking for several pollutants of concern, including particulate matter and polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs]," according to the report released Aug. 21.

A definitive answer as to whether the air was safe to breathe may not be settled for years to come, according to the report. In addition, the inspector generalīs report says the White House influenced those premature assurances. "The White House Council on Environmental Quality influenced, through the collaboration process, the information that EPA communicated to the public through its early press releases when it convinced EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones," according to the 155-page report. However, the report noted the agency is drafting a plan for improving its communication procedures for emergency situations.

The inspector generalīs report also said that while the EPAīs actions complied with existing statutes and regulations, they could have taken a more proactive approach regarding indoor cleanup. The EPA did not assume a leadership role in the indoor cleanup effort until February 2002 after the city was criticized for its response, according to the report.

Many residents who live near the World Trade Center had returned to their homes, and a study indicated most of them had not followed recommended cleaning practices, according to the report.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said they wanted Congress and Justice Department officials to investigate the EPAīs handling of the crisis. "That the White House instructed EPA officials to downplay the health impact of the World Trade Center contaminants due to īcompeting considerationsī at the expense of the health and lives of new York City residents is an abomination," Nadler said.

However, EPA Acting Administrator Marianne Lamont Horinko defended the agency in a release, saying the EPA was operating under extraordinary circumstances. "In fact, this [inspector generalīs] document is infected with the attitude that somehow ībusiness as usualī conduct should have prevailed," Horinko wrote. "I am extremely proud of the response that the men and women of EPA made in the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse."

Horinko described the situation as chaotic as monitors on the scene operated without electricity and among fire and rescue crews. She also said, regarding the involvement of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, that the federal government in an emergency situation needs to speak with one voice.

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