Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Ground Zero Air Quality Questioned
By Chaka Ferguson, Associated Press Writer, February 23, 2002

    NEW YORK - The air around the World Trade Center disaster site may not be as safe as the Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites) has suggested, an expert testified at a hearing Saturday. Thomas Cahill, a professor at University of California-Davis who analyzed the dust and smoke produced by the Sept. 11 collapse of the center, said the EPA has had the technology and resources to test the air for ultra-fine particles, but did not do so in this case.
    Asked whether he could say the air around ground zero was safe without performing such tests, Cahill responded, "The word `safe' is a difficult word. "`Safe' depends on the level in which a person would respond," he said, adding that a person with a health condition, such as asthma, might be more adversely affected by the air than a healthy person.
    "I hope this will trigger the EPA to do the measurements," Cahill said of the hearing, which was chaired by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (news) at the federal courthouse in Manhattan.
    Cahill said that in mid-September he began to suspect that the collapse had produced fine particles, which he said could contain the same carcinogens and toxins feared to be in the air around the trade center. He said high temperatures, such as the months-long fires that burned at ground zero, also can produce the fine particles. Cahill said the EPA has had the technology to test for the ultra-fine particles since 1996 and measures for them at nuclear sites.
    Nadler, EPA ombudsman Robert Martin and his chief investigator, Hugh Kaufman were to hear on Saturday from additional scientists, area residents and ground zero rescue and recovery workers.
    Nadler, whose congressional district includes the trade center site, accused the EPA of failing to safeguard public health by proclaiming downtown safe without doing any indoor testing of businesses or apartments. He said the EPA is wrong when it claims no responsibility for testing and cleaning.
    "It is absurd that the EPA has claimed publicly that it doesn't have the legal authority to do necessary environmental tests and remediation in response to the World Trade Center attacks when it has clearly done residential work throughout the country,'" Nadler said. "Why is New York being treated differently?" Bonnie Bellow, an EPA spokeswoman, had no immediate comment.
    Mary Perillo, a downtown resident who said she had to move out of her apartment because of the mess, said residents are frustrated with the lack of help they are getting from the federal government, as well as city agencies. She said residents need federal aid to help offset the thousands of dollars in cleaning costs. "I had to throw out everything," said Perillo, who stayed with different friends before finding a sublet elsewhere. "It was all contaminated."

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