Tags: EPA | Clean | WTC | Apartments

EPA to Clean WTC Apartments

Thursday, 09 May 2002 12:00 AM

"We are pleased that the EPA has decided to accept responsibility for the protection of residents of Lower Manhattan," said Joel Shufro, executive director of The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), a coalition of unions and health professionals. "This is not only a step in the right direction, it is a reversal of EPA's policy."

During the 34 weeks that have passed since the attack on the World Trade Center, workers, residents and students in Lower Manhattan have been exposed to dust that is contaminated with asbestos, fiberglass, lead, highly alkaline concrete dust, and many other toxic substances, according to NYCOSH.

By the end of May, the EPA will have a hot line available for those who live in the estimated 15,000 potentially contaminated apartments in Lower Manhattan, to request testing and professional cleaning.

"This is to assuage concerns from residents in Lower Manhattan who continue to have concerns over air in their apartments," said Mary Mears, spokeswoman for Region II of the EPA.

"The plan -- covering Manhattan residential units south of Canal Street and the Manhattan Bridge approach, river to river -- was developed by the multiagency Task Force on Indoor Air in Lower Manhattan created by EPA Administrator Christie Whitman."

Asbestos had been found in some of the dust and debris samples taken from Lower Manhattan.

"Most of the air samples taken have been below levels of concern and based on the asbestos test results received thus far, there are no significant health risks to occupants in the affected area or to the general public," the EPA had said last fall.

The dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center was largely composed of particles of glass fibers, gypsum, concrete, paper and other building materials so it's not surprising that the pH level was high or that high levels of glass fibers were found, according to Geoff Plumlee, a research geochemist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver.

"Most of the U.S.G.S. samples had a pH of 9.5 to 10.5, two taken inside a high-rise apartment and in a gymnasium across from the World Trade Center had a pH of 11.8 to 12.1 -- equivalent to that of liquid drain cleaner," said Plumlee.

"It is a shame that these measures were not taken at a time when they could have prevented the heavy exposure to the toxic dust that covered lowered Manhattan," said Shufro.

"For nearly 8 months, the EPA has denied that it has authority to protect people from exposure to toxic substances indoors," said Shufro. "Now the EPA is taking responsibility for protecting Lower Manhattan residents -- an action which it could have taken months ago."

If asbestos is found in an apartment, workers would have to use abatement measures such as wearing moon suits and respirators. The EPA said it didn't know how many people would request the professional cleaning or how much the cleaning effort would cost. Four private contractors will be assigned the work and paid by the federal government. No timetable for the cleanup was provided by the EPA.

No cap has been set on the funding for this effort, provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mears said.

"It's better late than never, it's a big step in the right direction but many problems remain and there are many details that have to be worked out," Sudhir Jain, of the Lower Manhattan Tenants Coalition, told UPI. "Schools, businesses and common areas have not been addressed, and there needs to be some type of oversight function."

The New York City Health Department advised tenants to clean apartments themselves using a wet rag or wet mop, but many tenants who attempted to do became ill.

"When we cleaned our apartments, we'd get sick, and then we couldn't continue cleaning," Indira Singh, a Pearl Street resident, told UPI.

According to Shufro, the EPA plan should include the appointment of an independent advisory committee, with the authority to intervene if government agencies are not acting to protect public health, including representatives of tenants, workers, students and elected officials.

"The EPA plan lacks any provision for oversight from outside the same government agencies that have shirked their responsibility for all this time," Shufro said. "The EPA plan also lacks any protocols for testing, cleanup and post-cleanup clearance. Such protocols must be produced and published."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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We are pleased that the EPA has decided to accept responsibility for the protection of residents of Lower Manhattan, said Joel Shufro, executive director of The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), a coalition of unions and health professionals. ...
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2002-00-09
Thursday, 09 May 2002 12:00 AM
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