EPA considers cleaning WTC apts

April 13, 2002 at 6:55 AM
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NEW YORK, April 13 (UPI) -- For the first time following the collapse of the World Trade Center the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said at a state Assembly hearing Friday that it is considering paying for cleaning nearby apartments of contaminated dust.

"The agency is considering the possibility of paying for indoor cleanup of buildings," said Kathleen Callahan, acting director of Region 2 of the EPA. Such cleanup could costs tens of thousands of dollars per apartment.

Callahan said the EPA is developing a plan to find an unoccupied building with various amounts of dust so that cleaning methods advocated by the city's Department of Health can be tested. Tenants and landlords use a HEPA vacuum and a wet rag to clean dust. The EPA is also doing an inventory on what has been done to each building.

"Residents, government officials, business owners and many others testified of their concerns about air quality in Lower Manhattan," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat who represents Lower Manhattan. "Addressing these issues is vital to the well-being, stability and resurgence of the residential and business community here."

The hearing, held in a packed Assembly hearing room at 250 Broadway, was co-chaired by Silver and Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Thomas DiNapoli, Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried and Labor Committee Chairwoman Catherine Nolan, all Democrats.

Silver and Gottfried had heated exchanges with Callahan for what they characterized as the federal agency's "leadfooting" and "deliberately misinterpreting the presidential directive to clean up 'Ground Zero.'"

"We did not need to wait 10 years for your plans, we need something now," Silver said.

"I agree it's frustrating," Callahan said.

According to Dr. Stephen Levin, medical director of Mt. Sinai, Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the cleanup of Lower Manhattan should be handled with resources from FEMA, it should be done professionally and it should not be put on building residents or building occupants to handle themselves.

"I don't believe that trusting landlords to do this correctly is the best public health policy," he said.

For months, the EPA has been under fire for not addressing the indoor air quality of Lower Manhattan and for allowing the city Health Department to advice tenants and landlords to clean up dust, some that has tested positive for asbestos.

"The Health Department advised residents to use mops and wet rags to clean up, procedures which from an industrial hygiene perspective is ineffective and not sufficient to

protect one's safety and health," testified Joel Shufro, of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. "The act of taking a wet rag moving it across the surface makes the asbestos fibers airborne."

Since Sept. 11, hundreds of people have been examined for respiratory problems and hundreds are still on waiting lists waiting to be examined at Mt. Sinai.

"Rescue workers and those caught in the dust cloud of the collapsing towers had the heaviest exposures, and they are suffering the worst clinical consequences; those involved in rescue, recovery efforts and debris removal also had very heavy inhalation exposures to the dust and gases," testified Levin.

"So we're very concerned these exposures will cause respiratory problems, and that's what we've seen -- sinusitis, bronchitis, laryngitis, the very first onset of asthma they've ever had in their lives.

"What's most striking is the occurrence of persistent respiratory problems, chest tightness, the cough, the wheezing among individuals who were in excellent physical shape before Sept. 11," he added.

(Reporting by Alex Cukan in Albany)

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