Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

NYers Protest Downtown Air Quality
By Margaret Ramirez, Newsday Staff Writer, September 15, 2003

Anger about the air quality in lower Manhattan escalated yesterday as a coalition of residents, office workers and health experts cited evidence that asbestos and other toxins remain inside buildings at dangerous levels.

Robert Gulack, senior counsel for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, said environmental testing by a private firm in January found asbestos in the stairwell of the Woolworth Building, which is across from City Hall. The firm reported 267,500 asbestos structures per square centimeter, nearly 27 times the acceptable federal level. Recent testing in March found more asbestos in an emergency stairwell used by SEC employees.

During a news conference at Federal Hall, Gulack, who has suffered repeated attacks of bronchitis, believes the offices may have been recontaminated from dust that coated the exterior of the building and was not cleaned until this month.

Last month, a report by the federal Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General found that the agency misled New Yorkers on health effects of the air after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Reacting to the report, Gulack called on the federal government to conduct a comprehensive cleanup effort, to protect workers from any further health effects.

"They rushed us back into contaminated playgrounds and schools and places of business. They took it upon themselves to decide what we would be told, and what might be too upsetting for us to know. In that instant, the White House and the EPA became accomplices of Osama bin Laden," Gulack said.

"All the areas impacted on Sept. 11 -- in Manhattan and in Brooklyn, in homes and in offices, on the inside of and on the outside of buildings -- all of this must be, at long last, properly cleaned up. It is time for all of us to demand the clean-up that ought to have begun two years ago," Gulack said.

Last year, the EPA began a massive cleanup of residences near Ground Zero. But, several public officials criticized the plan as limited because schools and office buildings were not included in the plan.

Jo Polett, a lower Manhattan resident, said she was diagnosed with reactive airways disease from World Trade Center dust in her apartment. She now takes four medications to treat her illness.

"People are still being exposed right now," she said. "People are working and going to school in buildings contaminated by dust from the collapse. The EPA needs to come back and address this. They just want this to go away. They don't care what happens to people."

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