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EPA World Trade Center Dust Cleanup Program Criticized As Flawed, Inadequately Financed

Sep 6, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP A program to clean up World Trade Center dust in Lower Manhattan residences has been blasted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).   Released yesterday, a GAO report says that the program, which is run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is not adequately financed and poorly implemented.  Most disturbingly, the GAO report says that the EPA cleanup program has not been made available to every household that was contaminated with toxic World Trade Center dust following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

This is the second time the GAO has criticized the EPA’s efforts to rid Manhattan homes of toxin-laden World Trade Center dust.  The EPA's first  program, which cleaned 4, 167 dwellings and 144 buildings, was also found lacking by the GAO.  Earlier this summer, the GAO  accused the EPA of using faulty methodology when it reported the results of the first residential cleanup.  At the time, the EPA reported that only a fraction of the air samples taken from those dwellings showed unsafe levels of asbestos.  What the agency did not admit at the time was that the vast majority of those samples came from homes that had previously been through the decontamination process.  The GAO said this misleading information was the reason so few Lower Manhattan residents registered for the latest EPA cleanup program.

Now the GAO is faulting the EPA’s second attempt at a residential cleanup program because it was not made available to every residence that was enveloped by World Trade Center dust.   The current program covers only 272 residence and 25 buildings in Lower Manhattan.  Residences and buildings above Canal Street and Brooklyn that were also covered in dust following the 9/11 terrorist attacks were not eligible for the program.  The GAO also found that the EPA program has not implemented some recommendations made by a panel of technical experts that reviewed the agency's first residential cleanup attempt.  

The GAO also said that the EPA has not adequately financed its latest residential clean up program.   The EPA has allotted $7 million to fund the World Trade Center decontamination program.  But according to the GAO, the EPA never formulated a formal estimate for the program.  Rather, the $7 million represents money that was left over from the EPA’s first attempt at ridding homes of World Trade Center dust.

This is not the first time the EPA has come under fire for its handling and cleanup of toxic Word Trade Center dust.  Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, then EPA Administrator, Christine Todd Whitman issued numerous statements assuring New Yorkers that the air in Lower Manhattan was safe.  Since then, several studies have found those claims to be false.  

Far from safe, the World Trade Center dust has been found to contain high levels of pulverized glass, cement and toxins such as asbestos.  In the years since 9/11, thousands of rescue workers who spent weeks working at Ground Zero with little or no protective gear have reported unusually high incidences of respiratory illnesses.  Some researchers fear that the extent of 9/11- related illness will not be known for years.  

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