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Profile: Mary Mears
Positions that Mary Mears has held:
Mary Mears was a participant or observer in the following events:
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 ]
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 ; New York Daily News, 5/9/2002 ] 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 -
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 ; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 ]
The EPA does not acknowledge that there is a public health emergency
The program is voluntary.
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 ] 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).
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]
Only apartments which appear upon visual inspection to be contaminated will qualify for cleaning. [Salon, 8/15/2003]
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]
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]
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