Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Panel Is Split on Ways to Retest Air in Homes Near Ground Zero
By Anthony DePalma, New York Times, April 1, 2004

A panel of experts began its critical review yesterday of the federal government's cleanup of Lower Manhattan after the collapse of the World Trade Center, and immediately found itself torn between the needs of science and the health concerns of residents.

The 17-member panel, meeting publicly for the first time, released the outlines of a plan to retest 250 to 1,000 of the 4,167 apartments that were tested and cleaned by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2002 and 2003.

Those efforts have been widely criticized by downtown residents and public officials who have called them flawed, inadequate and deliberately misleading about the risks posed by dust from the collapse and smoke from the fires that smoldered for weeks afterward.

No sooner had the retesting proposal been made public yesterday than divisions began to appear within the panel, which consists of scientists, medical doctors and one resident of Lower Manhattan.

On one side were several scientists who insisted that any retesting follow strict guidelines to ensure that the methods are comparable to testing that was done after the initial cleanups.

The original test results showed that most apartments did not exceed standards for asbestos, which was used to indicate the presence of other pollutants.

On the other side were members who said the panel should conduct a range of tests, even if they were not done the first time, to assure residents that their apartments are safe.

"Science is not what brought us here," said Jeanne Stellman, a chemist and director of the general public health program at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. "It was community concerns."

Dr. Stellman acknowledged the value of maintaining scientific standards in the resampling, but said other issues were more important.

Time after time during the all-day hearing at the old Customs House on Bowling Green, residents, community organizers and panel members questioned the way the original cleanup had been handled by the E.P.A. And they asked what could be done to ease the concerns of thousands of people whose apartments were contaminated by the dust, which contained asbestos, lead, mercury and other hazardous elements.

One resident, Kelly E. Colangelo, testified that the work crew contracted by the E.P.A. to clean her apartment in Battery Park City did not follow accepted practices. They did not check the air-conditioner for contamination.. Nor did they run a fan to simulate normal living conditions while air samples were taken.

Kathy Callahan, the E.P.A.'s deputy regional administrator of Region 2, which includes New York, defended the cleanup, saying it was both timely and effective in removing contaminants from the apartments of those who had participated.

The initial testing of the cleaned apartments was done, she said, to "bolster the confidence that the cleaning was effective."

The federal program to clean up indoor air began in May 2002, and the voluntary enrollment period ran through the end of that year. Although there are more than 30,000 apartments in Lower Manhattan, just slightly more than 4,000 residents signed up for the program. The panel gave no estimate of how much the retesting would cost, or how long it would take. Paul Gilman, the chairman, said that he had hoped to have the results by June, but that there could be delays if the E.P.A. had trouble hiring contractors.



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