Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Most Didn't Trust EPA on WTC Air
By Laurie Garrett, Newsday Staff Writer, September 27, 2003

About 80 percent of residents living in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn at the time of the World Trade Center attacks distrusted health information released by the Environmental Protection Agency regarding post-9/11 air quality and feared for their health, according to survey results released yesterday.

A report based on the results of the survey, which was conducted earlier this year, was released by the EPA's inspector general Friday afternoon. In a letter to acting EPA Administrator Marianne Horinko accompanying yesterday's report, Inspector General Nikki Tinsley said, "Overall, the majority of respondents wanted more information regarding outdoor and indoor air quality, wanted this information in a more timely manner, and did not believe the information they received."

Further, the report found that health concerns, distrust of EPA assurances and World Trade Center debris inside homes and offices were "located beyond the perimeter of the zone designated as eligible for the EPA-led testing and cleaning program," notably in Brooklyn, Tinsley wrote.

The inspector general's office mailed questionnaires to New Yorkers in March and received 1,110 replies by July, with a response rate of just under 12 percent.

Eighty-one percent of respondents said they did not believe the EPA's assurances in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks that the air was safe to breathe and indoor dust could be safely removed with damp rags, as government officials claimed at the time.

Nine out of 10 Ground Zero workers included in the survey said they received unsatisfactory information regarding air safety and precautions they should have taken to protect themselves.

The survey found that in the weeks after the attacks, nearly 90 percent of respondents were convinced they faced serious health problems as a result of breathing outdoor air. Almost two years later, by the summer of 2003, that number had dropped to 27 percent.

Seventy-six percent initially feared they would suffer ill health from breathing the air in their homes or offices. By this past summer, 58 percent still feared the effects of indoor air.

Although the EPA designated lower Manhattan, below Canal Street, as the cleanup zone, nearly a quarter of Brooklyn respondents and 11 percent of Manhattan residents above Canal Street surveyed said they had found World Trade Center dust inside their homes.

Mary Mears, spokeswoman for the EPA's Region 2 office, which includes New York, said the report reflects the difficulty of communicating with the public in a time of disaster. Further, she said, the report is based on "a very thin survey. This data is not robust," with 1,110 respondents.

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