Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article|
E.P.A. panel considers
its next step
By Elizabeth OBrien, The
Downtown Express, Volume 16 Issue 53 | May 28 - June 3, 2004
The Environmental Protection Agencys goal of retesting Lower Manhattan apartments by
the end of June seemed remote this week as the agencys expert panel grappled with
how to measure lingering contamination from the World Trade Center collapse.
At its third public meeting on May 24, the 17-member panel of government and independent
experts continued discussing whether World Trade Center dust has a chemical fingerprint
that would distinguish it from normal urban grit. This so-called signature would help
scientists determine what, if any, contamination remains from the World Trade Center
The panel was formed in March and charged in part with overseeing the retesting of select
Lower Manhattan apartments that registered for the E.P.A.s post-9/11 cleanup. This
voluntary program sampled solely for asbestos in most of the approximately 4,200
But panelists have moved away from the retesting approach, which would gauge whether any
recontamination occurred after the cleanup. Instead, they have argued for broader testing
that would determine whether any W.T.C. toxins remain in areas exposed to the dust cloud,
regardless of whether they resulted from recontamination or from the original event.
"The panel decided that the recontamination question is not the most interesting
question," Dr. Paul Gilman, E.P.A. assistant administrator for research and
development and chairperson of the panel, told Downtown Express at the meeting.
In March, Gilman acknowledged that the goal of completing the retesting by June might be
"terribly optimistic." Even so, the E.P.A. may not have anticipated the degree
to which the panel would rethink its original mandate Panelists have delved into the
design of a testing program that would restore public trust in the agency after an
inspector general report last August found it acted without enough evidence when it
declared the air Downtown safe to breathe one week after the terror attack.
Gilman asked panelists at Mondays meeting if they might reconsider their original
goal of retesting cleaned apartments, an option they declined. At its next meeting, the
panel will continue to discuss whether certain compositions of glass fibers or other
materials would effectively indicate World Trade Center dust, a question that will then
shape its testing program.
The scope of the program remains under discussion. Community members have pressed for
extending dust sampling beyond the original boundary of Canal St. in Manhattan, and also
for the inclusion of offices, schools and firehouses in the program.
Panelists were told not to consider costs when designing the testing program, but at
Mondays meeting members acknowledged that they needed to work with whatever
resources are available. E.P.A. officials have not publicly named a dollar figure for the
testing program but have acknowledged that the price tag will limit its reach.
During a public comment session at Mondays meeting, one Battery Park City mother cut
to the heart of the communitys concerns about Downtown air quality.
"The only question I asked was if it was safe for my children," said the mother
of two, who requested anonymity. The panelists greeted her question with silence, she
recalled with disappointment "I was hoping to get some response."
The next public hearing of the E.P.A. expert panel is tentatively scheduled for June 22.
For more information, call 800-803-2833 or go to www.epa.gov/wtc/panel.
FAIR USE NOTICE
This article contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been
specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my
efforts to advance understanding of democracy, economic, environmental, human rights,
political, scientific, and social justice issues, among others. I believe this constitutes
a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US
Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107,
the material in this article is distributed without profit for research and educational
Take me back to learn more