Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

EPA Considers Paying for Apartment Cleaning
By Margaret Ramirez, Newsday Staff Writer, April 12, 2002

    Seven months after the World Trade Center collapse, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it was considering paying for the cleanup of hundreds of dust-filled apartments and offices in lower Manhattan. News that the federal agency might take the financial burden of the massive cleanup from landlords and tenants came during an Assembly hearing on air quality issues.
    In a heated exchange between EPA regional director Kathleen Callahan and Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), Callahan said the agency was considering the possibility of paying for indoor cleanup of buildings. “That’s on the table. We’ve never taken anything off the table,” Callahan said after testifying before Assembly members. “We’re going to keep discussing that with all our federal, state and city partners and as soon as we work through things, we’re going to let people know what’s the best way to go.”
    In recent months, city and state officials, as well as residents of lower Manhattan, have intensified their criticism of the EPA for failing to take responsibility of indoor air-testing of contaminants. Hundreds of residents, students and workers in the area have complained of headaches, nosebleeds and respiratory problems they believe are attributed to contaminants from World Trade Center debris.
    Since Sept. 11, EPA officials have said repeatedly that its sole responsibility was the outdoor environment. The city was charged with testing indoor private spaces, EPA officials said. But Friday, Gottfried said according to a presidential directive the EPA is mandated to clean up all buildings contaminated as a result of an act of terrorism. After explaining the directive, an angered Gottfried asked Callahan, “So, are you responsible for indoor air quality or are you not?”
    Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes lower Manhattan, said he could not understand why the federal agency had not taken action immediately after the attack. “Elsewhere they have done and paid for the cleanup. I don’t know why they wouldn’t do it in New York, except for the fact that it may cost more here because the disaster is of a greater magnitude,” Nadler, a Democrat, said.
    Callahan said the EPA is in the process of doing a “building by building inventory” of what has already been done and what remains to be completed. According to Tradewinds Environmental Restoration of Bay Shore, professional cleanup of an apartment could cost from $10,000 to $30,000.
    Also at the hearing, Robert Avaltroni of the city Department of Environmental Protection detailed a plan to remove caked dust and debris from 211 rooftops and building facades near Ground Zero. More troubling were results of limited indoor testing done by the city agency. Avaltroni said that of 2,622 samples submitted by building owners, 169 samples contained levels of asbestos greater than 1 percent.
    Federal regulatory requirements state that asbestos levels above the 1 percent level are hazardous. “That concerns me,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “We can’t just dismiss these things.”

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