Residents want EPA to rework dust plan
Brooklyn, Chinatown left out of voluntary 9/11 clean up program
by amy zimmer / metro new york
DEC 13, 2005
FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Despite objections from downtown residents and workers — and members of its own panel of experts — the Environmental Protection Agency disbanded the panel yesterday and pressed ahead with a plan many feel is inadequate to test for toxic dust created by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Many people who live and work in Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn believe asthma, bronchitis and other ailments are linked to the toxic plume of smoke that covered the area after the Twin Towers collapsed. They believe the remnants of that smoke are still coating their carpets and ventilation systems.
They hoped their concerns would be addressed by the panel of scientists and doctors — the World Trade Center Expert Technical Review Panel — convened nearly two years ago by the EPA to advise on a testing and cleanup plan. The panel suggested a comprehensive plan targeting not only residences, but also workplaces and areas such as Chinatown, the Lower East Side and parts of Brooklyn. But when the EPA released their final plan last month, the program included only residences below Canal Street that volunteered for testing.
“I don’t think anything we say will be taken into consideration by the EPA,” said Micki Siegal de Hernandez, the labor liaison on the panel yesterday at its last public hearing. The final plan, she said, was crafted by the EPA behind closed doors.
The EPA is a “bunch of brainiacs and bookworms who just look at numbers but don’t look at people’s pain,” said John Feal, a construction worker who lost half a foot in an accident while working in “the pit” at Ground Zero. “The people [downtown] and in Brooklyn pay taxes and deserve to know their tax money is going to protect their health.”
The EPA could not identify a “signature” set of contaminants clearly linked to WTC dust to “differentiate it from contaminants from 200 years of living in New York.” So it decided to “concentrate its resources” — $7 million in remaining 9/11 FEMA money — to the area “clearly contaminated,” said E. Timothy Oppelt, the panel’s interim chair and EPA’s director of the National Homeland Security Research Center.
“We think this is a scientifically responsible program, notwithstanding comments from some members of the panel,” he said.
Many of the panelists thought a signature could still be determined. “Perhaps we gave up on the signature too soon and the EPA got it wrong,” Oppelt conceded.
“If you’re going to clean up apartment A or B, but not C, and not the ventilation system, then apartment C could re-contaminate the others,” said Dave Newman, an industrial hygienist with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. “This plan will be used to close the door on the existence of contamination from 9/11 and will just give false assurances.”