Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article|
WTC trucks had wrong
By Kenneth R. Bazinet, Daily News Washington Bureau, August 15, 2002
WASHINGTON - A private contractor hired to clean up asbestos-tainted
dust near Ground Zero in the days after Sept. 11 failed to use required filters on its
vacuum trucks, a federal report shows. Feds discovered the lapse three weeks later and
ordered the contractor, Earth Technology Inc., to go back and sweep the streets again,
according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency inspector general obtained by
the Daily News.
Earth Technology's contract with the EPA required the use of so-called
high efficiency particulate air filters, which are capable of trapping particles so tiny
they can't be seen by the human eye. They keep the particles, which ordinary vacuums
wouldn't catch, from escaping the vacuum trucks and seeping back into the air.
But for the first five days of the cleanup, starting Sept. 14, the 10
trucks that sucked up dust in streets of the Financial District and around Battery Park
City didn't have the HEPA filters. During the cleanup, which ended Oct. 15, thousands of
people passed through the area, including rescue workers, volunteers and military
personnel involved in the recovery effort.
But the report, released last month, repeatedly emphasized the air
quality was safe. Other tests conducted by other sources also have repeatedly shown
downtown air quality to be free of asbestos and other cancer-causing substances.
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) demanded assurances that the missteps
wouldn't happen again, especially as the interior cleaning of buildings around the World
Trade Center site continues. "This finding begs the question as to what other
problems may have occurred in the weeks following Sept. 11, 2001, of which the public, and
possibly even EPA itself, are still unaware," Clinton, a member of the Senate
Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a letter she fired off yesterday to EPA.
Probe of EPA chief
internal investigators learned of the failure to use the HEPA filters during interviews in
an unrelated conflict-of-interest probe of EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. She was
accused of making assurances the air quality in lower Manhattan was safe to protect the
stock portfolio of her husband, who had interests in two companies in the area. The
inspector general, Emmett Dashiell, cleared Whitman of those charges, but the failure to
use the HEPA filters was revealed in his report. "It was buried," a government
EPA spokeswoman Steffanie Bell, said the "unusual and
unprecedented" circumstances after the terrorist attacks prevented the agency from
immediately catching the lapse. "As soon as we found it wasn't the right equipment,
we immediately told the contractor to address it and bring in the proper equipment,"
she said. Bell said the same mistake would not happen again, "even in the most
chaotic of situations." Repeated efforts to reach Earth Technology of New York
were unsuccessful yesterday.
During the first week of the cleanup, EPA environmental scientist Dan
Harkay discovered the vacuum trucks weren't using HEPA filters during a chat with a
subcontractor at Ground Zero, the report said. Harkay ordered Earth Technology to get the
proper equipment, but allowed the cleanup to continue until the HEPA filters arrived. The
trucks were equipped with filters, but they were considered less effective.
It was another three to four weeks before top EPA officials learned of
the mistake and ordered the second round of street cleaning, the report said.
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