Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Feds' WTC Plan Scrubs Cleanup for Downtown
By Sam Smith, New York Post, November 14, 2004

The federal government doesn't want to do any more windows — even if they're still contaminated from the World Trade Center attacks.

Three years after the Twin Towers' collapse and eight months after convening an expert panel to plan further 9/11 cleanups, the Environmental Protection Agency is offering a new proposal to test for hazardous material downtown — but it doesn't include a cleanup plan.

That's a change from the agency's previous approach to downtown contamination — and, critics say, a fatal flaw.

"There has to be a commitment from the EPA that there will be proper cleanup afterwards," said Catherine McVay Hughes, a downtown resident and member of the expert panel, which also included scientists and government employees.

"With no guarantee, I would not participate, and I don't think smart New Yorkers would."

Besides, critics say, the $7 million plan the EPA proposes isn't comprehensive enough anyhow.

"It took $30 million just to test the Deutsche Bank building [next to Ground Zero]," said a city union official briefed on the plan last week. "This won't pay for representative sampling."

Like the EPA, the city is also balking at a further cleanup. Fearing the multimillion-dollar expense and possible lawsuits, city officials are pushing the EPA not to test for lead in its search for more hazardous materials, said members of the EPA expert panel who asked not to be identified.

Lead is a contaminant the city Department of Health must, by law, ensure is cleaned.

The Fire Department has told the panel that it won't let its downtown firehouses be tested if the feds won't commit to a cleanup, said attendees at a recent panel meeting.

"Finding the problem is only part of what has to be done," said Phil McArdle of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, who believes that the FDNY should accept the testing.

EPA spokesman Michael Brown said it's "presumptuous" to talk of a cleanup if nobody is sure yet what contamination still exists.

"We don't even know if there will be anything to clean," Brown said, adding the agency wants to test first and then "work with FEMA and the city of New York to determine who precisely is responsible for cleanup."

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