Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Downtown Residents Cast Doubt on EPA
By Amy Zimmer, Metro New York, May 25, 2005

BOWLING GREEN Many Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn residents and workers are worried theyre breathing toxins from smoke that enveloped their buildings after the World Trade Center collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.

They doubt the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencys plan to test apartments and offices for asbestos, lead and other particles in their buildings will be effective and said so at yesterdays meeting of the WTC Expert Technical Review Panel, a group of scientists that acts as a liason between residents and the EPA.

Although the plan calls for volunteer buildings in Lower Manhattan from the islands tip to Houston and Clinton streets and across the East River to parts of Brooklyn ending at Henry Street, Paul Stein of the New York State Public Employees Federation said issues of legal liability and business disruption would dissuade participation.

"Only the minority of buildings and offices that have been thoroughly cleaned [already] will allow EPA testing, thus skewing the results and invalidating the testing plan," he said, claiming this will lead residents to distrust the EPA.

These feelings inspired several downtown residents to form the "Rebuild with a Spotlight on the Poor Coalition."

According to Maria Muentes, a coalition member, at least four medical studies have documented illnesses in the community, including one by Dr. Anthony Szema, of SUNY Stony Brook, that showed asthma increases in children living within five miles of Ground Zero.

"The Lower East Side must be included not in this f lawed plan but in a real credible plan that does not by design underestimate the extent of contamination in all of Lower Manhattan," she said. "The EPA needs to act as though there are lives at stake, because there are."

E. Timothy Oppelt, the director of the EPAs National Homeland Security Research Center, was disappointed by the criticism.

"From the inside looking out, I know the EPA is trying to do the right thing," he said. "Obviously, everybody would like to have their own way of doing things, and our job is to come up with the best agreement."

The EPA will begin a public campaign once their plan is finalized this summer. "We will see if we can get community groups to encourage participation," Oppelt said.

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