Jan. 18, 2007 – Mowing over protests from New York City residents, workers and public-health advocates, the federal government has rolled out a plan to clean up pollution left behind by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
- Ground Zero: The Most Dangerous Workplace (Jan 24, 2005)
- Lingering Threats: Contamination May Still Lurk Near Ground Zero* (Feb 7, 2005)
- Community Groups Push EPA to Better Address 9/11 Aftermath (Jul 20, 2005)
Various community and environmental organizations, unions, and state elected officials say the Environmental Protection Agencyâ€™s (EPA) program, which follows half a decade of scientific investigations, political wrangling and mounting public frustration, ignores major concerns about toxins still lurking at Ground Zero.
The clean-up program, which began its enrollment period for community members on Tuesday, is designed to address four types of pollutants left over from the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings: asbestos, lead, airborne toxins known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and fiberglass-type materials. Residents and businesses can volunteer to have dust and air in indoor spaces tested, and the Agency says it will deal with contamination that is found to exceed certain levels.
In its announcement of the plan, the EPA asserted that since most occupied indoor spaces in the area "have been repeatedly cleaned in the five years since 9/11, EPA scientists say the potential for exposure to dust that may remainâ€¦ is low." The agency has defended its plan as the most comprehensive effort possible based on available data.
But Kimberly Flynn of 9/11 Environmental Action, a grassroots group campaigning on Ground Zero contamination issues, called the plan "fatally flawed."
Local activists point out that the designated clean-up area spans only the tip of Lower Manhattan surrounding Ground Zero. Yet the governmentâ€™s data shows that after the collapse of the Towers, smoke and pollution from the smoldering site flowed to other areas of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.
Critics also see shortcomings in the EPAâ€™s methodology and cleanup criteria. Independent research on the aftermath of the collapse â€“ as well as a 2003 EPA inspector generalâ€™s investigation â€“ suggest that the extent of the contamination includes types of toxins not covered by the plan, such as dioxin generated by burning materials.
The EPAâ€™s own specially appointed expert review panel recommended more rigorous standards for clean-up and testing than the current plan includes. The EPA disbanded the panel in late 2005 amid public controversy over the adequacy of the Agencyâ€™s efforts.
Joel Shufro, executive director of the advocacy group New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, told The NewStandard he was "mystified" by the EPAâ€™s policy for cleaning workplaces, which relies on employers, not workers, to initiate the cleanup process. Shufro predicted that employers are unlikely to voluntarily halt work and submit to the complex environmental testing and cleaning procedures.
Meanwhile, researchers with the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program and the World Trade Center Health Registry, two government-funded health-monitoring projects, have found that thousands of workers, including both emergency responders and ordinary employees, have reported respiratory and other health problems linked to Ground Zero contamination.
Suzanne Mattei, New York City executive for the Sierra Club, said community organizations will continue protesting the plan and will push for congressional oversight of the EPAâ€™s cleanup efforts.
Mattei views the new program as the governmentâ€™s attempt to bury responsibility for hazards that have haunted the city for five years. "The bottom line is [EPA officials] donâ€™t want to find anything," she said. "They designed a plan to not find anything."