Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Airing Accusations
Nadler: EPA broke law by not clearing asbestos
By Margaret Ramirez, Newsday Staff Writer, February 24, 2002

    During a packed investigative hearing on air quality, Rep. Jerrold Nadler charged yesterday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency broke the law by not taking responsibility for cleanup of thousands of dust-filled apartments and offices in lower Manhattan.
    Nadler cited a letter from the U.S. Department of Labor's assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, which stated that all settled dust from the Sept. 11 World Trade Center collapse "must be presumed to contain asbestos."
    "It's clear that the city and federal government are not upholding the law," Nadler (D-Manhattan) said during the hearing at the U.S. Courthouse in lower Manhattan.
    "If all the dust is presumed to contain asbestos, you have to have professional remediation. When the city health department says you can do it with a wet mop, they are violating the law," he said.
    The hearings were arranged by EPA National Ombudsman Robert Martin and chief investigator Hugh Kaufman to determine whether the EPA misrepresented data that found the air around Ground Zero to be safe.
    Although the EPA ombudsman's office recommended that workers at Ground Zero as well as area residents should wear respirators, several health and medical experts who testified at the hearing said that only workers should be required to wear them.
    At the hearings, Thomas Cahill, a professor of physics and atmospheric sciences at the University of California-Davis, who analyzed dust and smoke collected at Ground Zero Oct. 2-31, said he could not say whether the air is safe. Cahill added that a person with a health condition, such as asthma, might be more adversely affected by the air than a healthy person.
    "'Safe' depends on the level in which a person would respond," Cahill said. Cahill found the air was laden with high amounts of very fine particles associated with burning debris. The levels exceeded those recorded during the oil fires in Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War.
    Cahill said the EPA has had the technology and resources to test the air for ultra-fine particles, but did not do so.
    Dr. Stephen Levin, medical director of the Mount Sinai Occupational Health Clinic, testified that he has seen about 300 people - mostly construction workers from Ground Zero - suffering from sinusitis, bronchitis and new onsets of asthma. He said the main cause of such conditions was irritants in the air including concrete dust, fiberglass and soot.
    He called for immediate professional cleanup of homes and offices and enforced protection of workers still at the site. He faulted the Federal Emergency Management Agency for not taking responsibility of the cleanup immediately after Sept. 11.
    "FEMA should have supported cleanup activities so people never had to put themselves at risk and do it by themselves," Levin testified at the hearing.
    Dawn Pryor, a lower Manhattan resident who lives on Cedar Street, showed a video of her soot-filled apartment, with layers of dust covering baby furniture and toys of her children.
    Mary Perillo, another resident of the same building, said the tenants came to the hearing seeking guidance on how to proceed with cleanup. Perillo said dozens of calls to EPA and FEMA only brought more confusion. "We can't move back in and we're trying to find out what are the standards for cleanup. We've had it tested and we know it has asbestos, but we don't know what to do," she said.

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