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Context of 'May 8, 2002: EPA Announces It will Assume Responsibility for Cleaning Some Residences of 911 Contamination'

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In a letter to Senator James Jeffords, California Air Resources Board executive director Michael P. Kenny says that a recent testimony by C. Boyden Gray may have misled Congress into believing “that since California has made considerable progress toward achieving clean air standards there is justification for relaxing or eliminating the New Source Review program.” Rather, according to Kenny, the continuation of the New Source Review program is essential. “[I]n both verbal and written comments to the US Environmental Protection Agency (enclosed) we shared our experience with the success of New Source Review in California.… The New Source Review program in California… has… resulted in the construction of some of the cleanest power plants in the nation.… New Source Review is based on the solid premise that new emissions should be minimized and mitigated so that industrial growth can continue without undermining progress toward achieving clean air mandates.… We believe that any weakening of New Source Review control requirements will increase the need to achieve a greater proportion of emission reductions from existing sources and will likely result in a less effective pollution control program.” [US Congress, 7/26/2001, pp. 104]

Entity Tags: Clayland Boyden Gray, James Jeffords, Michael P. Kenny

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The City of New York hires LZA Associates and Thornton-Tomasetti Engineers to put together a team of engineers and contractors to inspect the World Trade Center and surrounding structures in order to help ensure the safety of rescue workers. [Civil Engineering, 11/2001]

Entity Tags: Thornton-Tomasetti Engineers, LZA Associates

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears is quoted by Newsday: “Given the levels of asbestos we don’t think there is any kind of significant health risk for people working or living near the site. But there could be some risk to the workers who are actually on the site where the levels tend to be the highest.” [Newsday, 11/9/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Mary Mears

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, appearing before Congress, states: “Under the provisions of PDD 62, signed by President Clinton in 1998, the EPA is assigned lead responsibility for cleaning up buildings and other sites contaminated by chemical or biological agents as a result of an act of terrorism. This responsibility draws on our decades of experience in cleaning up sites contaminated by toxins through prior practices or accidents.” Her deputy, Linda Fisher, will repeat this to Congress a week later (see December 5, 2001). [US Congress, 4/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Christine Todd Whitman, Environmental Protection Agency, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Joel Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project collects dust samples at 150 Franklin Street at the request of one of the building’s tenants. He sends three samples to a lab which tests the dust for asbestos using transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The lab finds asbestos levels of 1.2, 1.4 and 1.8 percent. In September (see Shortly after September 17, 2001), the tenants had cleaned the building according to instructions provided by the city’s health department (see September 17, 2001). The building’s tenants—among them a family-run child care center—had relied on assurances from EPA and city officials that the downtown air was safe and consequently did not have the building professionally tested. After Kupferman notifies the city about these alarming results, the city tests the building using polarized light microscopy (PLM) on April 18 and does not find elevated asbestos levels. The city’s samples are retested by the EPA using transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and found to have an asbestos level ranging from 2 percent to 5 percent. “We recommended that [the building] be professionally cleaned,” EPA spokesperson Mary Mears later says. [New York Daily News, 5/2/2002; Wall Street Journal, 5/9/2002 pdf file; Salon, 8/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Joel R Kupferman, New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The EPA’s regional office in New York announces that the agency will assume responsibility for testing and cleaning residences south of Canal, Allen, and Pike Streets in Manhattan for asbestos contamination—if requested by the resident. The EPA claims the decision was made in order to calm residents’ fears, and that decontamination is not necessary. “While the scientific data about any immediate health risks from indoor air is very reassuring, people should not have to live with uncertainty about their futures,” says Jane Kenny, EPA regional administrator. “There is no emergency here.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/9/2002 pdf file; New York Daily News, 5/9/2002 pdf file] Similarly, Mary Mears, spokeswoman for Region II of the EPA, states, “This is to assuage concerns from residents in Lower Manhattan who continue to have concerns over air in their apartments.” [United Press International, 5/9/2002]
Criticisms of the EPA's volunteer cleanup program -
bullet The EPA does not include other areas like Brooklyn, which was in the direct path of the September 11 smoke plume (see September 12, 2001), or Chinatown, whose residents have also complained of ailments they attribute to WTC contamination. [New York Daily News, 5/20/2002 pdf file; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]
bullet The EPA does not acknowledge that there is a public health emergency
bullet The program is voluntary.
bullet The EPA program targets asbestos, although the agency will also randomly test for other toxins to determine if additional measures should be taken. “We will test for asbestos in air. This is the substance of greatest concern, and air is the pathway of exposure. By cleaning up the dust, many other substances will also be removed,” an EPA public notice explains. [Environmental Protection Agency, 8/4/2003] However according to Cate Jenkins, “too few homes [are sampled] to have any statistical power to establish that these substances are not occurring elsewhere.” [Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file] A panel of experts convened by the EPA in October will agree, and suggest that the EPA conduct tests for additional toxins (see Mid-October 2002).
bullet The program is limited to private residences. Office buildings, the common areas of apartment buildings, stores and restaurants are not eligible for the program. [New York Daily News, 10/29/2002]
bullet Only apartments which appear upon visual inspection to be contaminated will qualify for cleaning. [Salon, 8/15/2003]
bullet The plan does not require that all apartments in a building be evacuated and cleaned—just those whose residents have filed requests. Consequently, recontamination and cross-contamination will occur from ventilation systems connecting cleaned and uncleaned apartments and from dust tracked in on residents’ shoes and clothing. [Salon, 8/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Mary Mears, Jane Kenny, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

A panel of experts convene for two days, at the request of the EPA, and make recommendations for the EPA’s indoor cleanup program (see May 8, 2002) in Manhattan. The panel suggests expanding the testing to “include a wider array of toxic contaminants;” lowering “the EPA’s proposed danger benchmarks to take into account more vulnerable populations, such as children;” and establishing “safety standards for both residential and commercial buildings in Lower Manhattan.” [New York Daily News, 10/29/2002]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Kathleen Callahan, an EPA assistant regional administrator, rejects the New York City firefighters union’s request to expand the EPA’s cleanup program (see May 8, 2002) for residential spaces in Lower Manhattan to four firehouses in Lower Manhattan. “We have not undertaken any cleanup of firehouses,” Callahan explains at an environmental symposium at Fordham University. “The program that we have is strictly residential and therefore, we would not do firehouses.” [Infinity Broadcasting Corp, 3/12/2003]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Kathleen Callahan

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

When asked to comment on allegations that the EPA had intentionally used testing methods incapable of detecting ultra fine particles and fibers in order not to find asbestos and other contaminants in Lower Manhattan, agency spokesperson Mary Mears tells Salon Magazine, “There are certain differences of opinion that will not be resolved.” She dismisses the fact that independent labs have found much greater levels of contamination than the EPA’s tests, arguing that the private labs may not have used precise EPA methods. She also denies that conditions in Manhattan are unsafe. “We do not agree that this is a public health concern,” she says. “We have not seen the evidence, we do not see the danger.” She explains that the volunteer program is not meant to address a safety problem, just calm the nerves of Lower Manhattan residents. “While we felt there wasn’t a big risk in the long term, we felt a need to offer something to those residents,” she said. “We do not feel this is a public-health emergency. But it goes well beyond anything that could be called a PR campaign.” [Salon, 8/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Mary Mears, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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