Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article|
E.P.A. watchdog panel
looks to expand testing
OBrien, Downtown Express, Volume 16 Issue 47 | April 16-22, 2004
Experts charged with reviewing the Environmental Protection Agencys response to the
World Trade Center collapse have recommended broader testing to determine what, if any,
contamination remains from the disaster.
In its second public meeting on April 12, the 17-member panel of government and
independent experts moved away from its initial plan to retest only those Lower Manhattan
apartments that were originally cleaned as part of the E.P.A.
voluntary residential cleanup program. Instead, panelists recommended that the E.P.A.
sample workplaces and buildings outside the agencys prior boundary of Canal, Pike
and Allen Sts. Panelists also discussed testing for toxins other than asbestos, the only
substance sampled in the majority of apartments the E.P.A. cleaned.
"This is a very important development," said Kimberly Flynn, a spokesperson for
9/11 Environmental Action, a community group. "This is something we didnt
The panel, formed largely to restore public trust in the E.P.A. response to 9/11, resulted
from negotiations among Senator Hillary Clinton, the E.P.A. and the White House Council on
Environmental Quality. Many lost faith in the E.P.A. after a report by the agencys
independent inspector general judged the E.P.A. acted without enough evidence when it
declared the air Downtown safe to breathe one week after 9/11.
In addition, critics have called the agencys cleanup program, which began in June of
2002 and ended last year, poorly designed and executed. While the program found few cases
of asbestos levels exceeding the E.P.A. benchmark 6 percent of apartments that
received "aggressive" testing, where a leaf blower agitated settled dust, were
found to have elevated asbestos levels, compared with only 0.5 percent of apartments that
received "modified aggressive" testingcritics have questioned the
methodology that generated the results.
At its first public meeting on March 31, the panel discussed testing already cleaned
apartments to determine whether recontamination had occurred through building ventilation
systems or other means. But two weeks later, panel members shifted towards screening for
9/11-related toxins in general, regardless of whether they resulted from recontamination.
One reason for the change in focus was the challenge of obtaining enough sample data to
ensure statistically valid recontamination results, said Dr. Paul Gilman, chairperson of
the panel and assistant administrator for research and development at the E.P.A. Another
reason, one panelist told Downtown Express after the meeting, was simply because
9/11-related toxins pose concerns regardless of whether they resulted from recontamination
or from the original event.
Panelists also found inadequate the E.P.A.s working assumption that cleaning for
asbestos would adequately remove other potentially dangerous toxins such as lead, even if
workers did not test for other contaminants in most homes. They debated which contaminants
should be included in the retesting program, set to begin this summer.
"When we have proof its not in someones system, we should move on,"
said David Prezant, a panel member who is also deputy chief medical officer with the New
York Fire Department. For example, Prezant said, high levels of lead have not been found
in first responders blood, so lead should not be included in the retesting.
Panelists and the public alike cheered the new direction taken at last Mondays
"Im hopeful we can implement science-based testing efforts to broaden the
geographical scope of the testing and look for a suite of possible contaminations so that
we can finally know exactly what we are or are not dealing with in Lower Manhattan,"
said Dave Newman, an industrial hygienist with the New York Committee for Occupational
Safety and Health, who serves on the panel.
The E.P.A. is not obligated to follow the panels recommendations, but given the
groups mandate of bolstering public trust in the agency it is likely the E.P.A. will
adopt its suggestions to the extent possible within budgetary constraints. At the
panels next meeting, scheduled for May 24, members will further discuss their
recommendations for the retesting program, in terms of specific contaminants and buildings
to be included.
At two public sessions during the April 12 meeting, community members let the panel know
they were following its every move. Kelly Colangelo, a resident of 41 River Terrace in
Battery Park City, said she had taken a vacation day off work in order to attend the
Colangelo told panelists they must work hard to earn the publics respect "I
think careful planning and clear communication are essential."
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