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Scientists Urge Closer Look at Residual Trade Center Toxins
By David M. Levitt, Bloomberg News, January 19, 2005

Jan. 19 (Bloomberg) -- A panel of toxicologists and industrial hygienists urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to expand testing of lower Manhattan to include mercury, dioxin and other contaminants that may remain from the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001.

The panelists, which includes scientists from the City University of New York, Duke University and a former assistant U.S. surgeon general, said the agency should dig behind cabinets and into building ventilation systems for dangerous particles that could become airborne. They also urged the agency to de- emphasize its search for a chemical ``signature'' that would affirm that found pollutants were in fact from the trade center.

"You can't sample for everything, but dioxin and mercury are very dangerous chemicals, and probably pose along with lead some of the most serious long-term health consequences,'' David Carpenter, a University of Albany, New York, toxicologist who headed up the panel, said in an interview. These substances "are not being proposed for sampling,'' he said.

His comments come a day after the EPA's deadline for public comment on its plan to sample interior spaces in lower Manhattan for remaining trade center contaminants. Residents have reported elevated levels of asthma and other ailments since the Sept. 11 attacks that they say can be directly attributed to exposure to such substances.

Carpenter said he was ``very skeptical'' that a distinct signature of trade center pollution could be found ``or if it were, that there would be only one. The collapse of the buildings and the fires that followed each released very different kinds of contaminants.'' He said he feared that the search for such a signature would delay a cleanup.

EPA Testing Plan

Carpenter and the other scientists examined the EPA plan on behalf of the WTC Community-Labor Coalition, a group of trade center-area residents, environmental and labor activists who have been monitoring the agency's response to the lingering health effects of the disaster.

Michael Brown, an EPA spokesman, said the coalition's report is one of about 20 comments received. He said the agency, which put together its own panel of experts to oversee the sampling plan, would review the comments, and hold a meeting toward the end of February to let the community know what changes, if any, it intends to make in its program.

"We only today began considering these comments,'' he said. "We will consider and analyze them.''

The agency's 30-page plan says that testing of apartments done in 2002 found very little dioxin, at levels "not significantly different from'' typical urban environments.

In addition to seeking testing for dioxin, mercury and small particles of asbestos, the community panel also wants testing to be expanded across the East River to northern Brooklyn, where plumes of smoke and dust from the collapses blew.

They also urged the agency to select buildings to be tested at random, rather than depending on landlords and tenants to volunteer their spaces. This ``will likely considerably underestimate the extent of contamination,'' Carpenter said.

--Editor Bostick

Story illustration For details about the Environmental Protection Agency's study of pollution in Lower Manhattan and the Technical Expert Review Panel, see
To contact the reporter on this story: David M. Levitt in New York at (1) (212) 893-4765 or
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Edward DeMarco at (1) (202) 624-1935 or

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