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EPA Sets Voluntary Participation for Trade Center Toxin Search
By David M Levitt, Bloomberg News, May 24, 2005 (New York)

May 24 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency won't require New York property owners to cooperate with its search for toxic dust from the destruction of the World Trade Center, officials said.

The agency rejected calls to make participation in the inspections mandatory as it plans its second examination of the disaster's long-term environmental impacts, said Jacky Rosati, an EPA researcher, speaking at a hearing in lower Manhattan.

Evidence of trade center-related contamination, such as asbestos and lead, could trigger a new government-financed cleanup of apartments and workplaces in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. People living near Ground Zero complain of elevated levels of asthma and other respiratory ailments that they attribute to residue from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

"We're not going to bully people into offering up their units and apartments for any purpose," said Timothy Oppelt, interim chairman of the EPA's trade center technical review.

The plan calls for voluntary inspections of 150 buildings and for indoor areas deemed inaccessible, such as under beds and behind copying machines, to have different thresholds for cleanup than highly trafficked walkways and exterior surfaces.

Residents and environmental activists assailed the EPA, saying the decisions attempt to minimize the extent of contamination. Linda Rosenthal, an aide to U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, a Manhattan Democrat, said federal law empowers the agency "to enter any vessel, facility or property, to conduct responsible testing and cleanup.''

"The EPA gains access to sites all over the country all the time," she said. "Lower Manhattan should not be an exception.''

The agency plans a "spatially balanced statistical selection of 150 buildings'' from among 6,000-plus structures ranging from Ground Zero to downwind Brooklyn, said Matthew Lorber of the EPA's National Center for Environmental Assessment. If a landlord refuses access, the inspection will shift to a statistically equivalent building, Lorber said.

The program follows a cleanup in 2002 and 2003, in which the U.S. government paid professionals to remove contaminants from 4,300 apartments close to Ground Zero.

Oppelt, who is director of the EPA's National Homeland Security Research Center, said the agency responded to community criticism by doubling the size of the study area and adding Brooklyn, after initially planning to test only below Canal Street in lower Manhattan.

The agency, which had planned to test only for asbestos, will also search for insulation fibers known as "slag wool," polychlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons and lead, Oppelt said.

Still, opponents pressed for more concessions, such as more attention to limited and inaccessible areas.

"My young children hide under the bed during hide and seek sessions," said Craig Hall, a resident of Battery Park City and president of the WTC Residents Coalition. "I open my windows and dust that has collected in the window wells is blown into our living space. Why are these classified as inaccessible?''

The danger from inhaling trade center pollutants comes from routine exposure, Lorber said, not from a one-time or occasional encounter.

"Not everyone is going to agree with us 100 percent, but what we have tried to do is to have an overlapping confluence between what the community wants and what is scientifically credible and valid," said Michael Brown, an EPA spokesman.

For details about the Environmental Protection Agency's study of pollution in Lower Manhattan and 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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