EPA’s Latest Betrayal at Ground Zero

Doing an end run around the Lower Manhattan community with which it has been in supposed consultation concerning plans to test and remediate toxic contamination remaining from 9/11, yesterday the US EPA announced a ‘clean-up’ which represented several steps backwards.

The move outraged community advocates, scientists and elected officials.

“[T]he plan…. fails to correct the major problems identified by EPA’s Inspector General in 2003,” said Senator Hillary Clinton. “For example, the plan does not include testing in north of Canal Street or in Brooklyn, in spite of the Inspector General’s conclusion that the cleanup boundaries were not scientifically developed. In addition, the plan ignores many of the recommendations made by the World Trade Center Expert Technical Review Panel over the last 20 months.”

“This sham plan is terrible in many ways,” said Congressman Jerrold Nadler whose district includes Ground Zero. “It excludes workplaces; it does not address the problem of contaminated HVAC systems; it ignores buildings slated for demolition; it will not investigate whether areas have been re-contaminated; and it does not cover all the geographic areas known to have been showered with dust ­ and that’s just for starters.”

EPA’s announcement followed the conclusions of an independent panel about EPA’s plan to base testing for toxic contamination on the presence of slagwool, a building component which EPA chose to serve as a ‘signature’ for WTC dust. The independent scientists concluded that EPA’s method did not support slagwool as a signature, thus corroborating what community advocates including the Sierra Club, 9/11 Environmental Action, the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health and the World Trade Center Environmental Organization, had been saying for years.

Doing an about-face from EPA’s previous advocacy of slagwool Dr. Timothy Oppelt, Chairman of the Expert Technical Review Panel, told the Washington Post, “We would prefer to go further, but the science won’t let us. We can’t be whimsical.”

It is debatable that whimsy is what the independent scientists had in mind when they wrote:

“The peer reviewers were skeptical that EPA’s evaluation and interpretation of the study data were performed fairly. Peer reviewers pointed to several non-standard steps taken to enhance the study’s ability to distinguish WTC dust from background dust. These steps could be interpreted as attempts to prove the method’s success rather than to objectively evaluate its real-world potential for fingerprinting WTC dust.”

Dr. Oppelt reiterated EPA’s claim that the boundaries of the announced ‘cleanup’ were generous because they went beyond the heaviest dust viewed from a satellite in the days following 9/11. The relevance of satellite photography to toxic particles some of which can only be seen with powerful microscopes is questionable.

In the final coup de grace before he retires from EPA in January, Dr. Oppelt also disbanded the panel which will have its last meeting December 13 before it has addressed a major part of its mandate: unmet public health needs. The Health Registry which had been given the floor on several occasions, is distorted by problems including lack of objectivity (it is based on self-reporting by participants rather than on medical tests) and conflict of interest (the New York City Department of Health, under whose auspices the Registry is being conducted, initially told residents to clean their apartments using a wet mop or wet rag.) With the peremptory closing up shop of the Technical Review Panel sick residents, students and office workers will be deprived of what has been their only forum for possible redress.

However, Congressman Nadler concluded that with its latest ‘cleanup’ plan, the EPA had in fact satisfied “its traditional internal goals: to obfuscate the facts, to deny the truth, and to produce a plan designed not to find any contamination.”

JENNA ORKIN is one of twelve original plaintiffs in a potential class action lawsuit against EPA. She can be reached at: Jennakilt@aol.com


Jenna Orkin is the author of Writer Wannabe Seeks Brush With Death.