Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Panel Urges More NYC Tests
By Heather Moyer, Disaster News Network, April 19, 2004

NEW YORK CITY (April 19, 2004) —  Air quality and contaminant testing around Ground Zero should be expanded, said experts who reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) response to the World Trade Center attacks.

This move is late, but it's still a good thing. —Florence Coppola

A new testing area should be broader than the originally tested geographical area, and the tests should screen for other contaminants besides asbestos, the 17-member panel decided last week. The panel serves as an advisory board to the EPA.

The EPA has been receiving heavy criticism since a report by the agency's independent inspector general said the EPA did not have enough evidence to declare the air in lower Manhattan safe to breathe one week after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Several local health organizations quickly suspected the air quality was unsafe when relief workers and local residents began to have respiratory ailments. The Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) worked together to set up clinics to screen people who thought they were affected.

These efforts were supported by the United Church of Christ (UCC). UCC Executive for National Disaster Ministries Florence Coppola said the panel's recommendation is a step in the right direction. "I think this move is late, but it's still a good thing," she said. "And at least they'd be testing for toxins beyond asbestos - this community still needs a lot of help."

Panelists said community members who attended the meeting were pleased with the recommendations, but will still watch the panel closely to see what actions will result.

"The public there was pleased with the notion that the EPA is open to broadening the investigation," said Dave Newman, panel member and industrial hygienist for NYCOSH. "So were many of the activist groups involved in this since 9/11, including NYCOSH. I think many are surprised that this is moving so quickly."

Newman said the next step for the panel is to work directly with the EPA to implement a plan of action, adding that the EPA had already contacted panel members to solicit plan implementation ideas. "(The EPA) wants to know how we want the testing to happen and where the testing should be expanded to," said Newman.

Many advocacy groups want the testing to expand to previously excluded places, like businesses, schools, and firehouses.

The panel's next meeting is May 24, but there's also a conference call May 12, and many additional community groups want to participate in that call, said Newman. "The process is definitely moving along," he said.

Coppola added many people are closely watching the process. "We don't know where it will lead," she said. "But we'll take it one step at a time and see where it ends up."


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