Volume 16, Number 11 | Aug. 12–Aug. 18, 2003


W.T.C. baby study’s findings

A report by Mount Sinai School of Medicine has found what scientists called a slight but significant rise in the percentage of small babies born to women who were pregnant and around the World Trade Center during or after the 9/11 terror attack. The researchers hypothisized that air pollution from the destruction and burning and smoldering of the World Trade Center was the likeliest cause of the low birth weights, but they admitted more study is required to be conclusive.

Yet, not surprisingly, some local media were quick to sensationalize the study’s findings, most notably the New York Post, whose front page blared, “WTC Baby Shock — Toxic fallout slashed infants’ birth weight.”

The fact is, eight percent of the W.T.C. babies born to 182 mothers were considered slightly small, compared with less than four percent of more than 2,300 babies in the control group. The underweight babies were only two ounces — not several pounds — below weight; they in no way approached the categories of low weight or severe low weight.

All the study’s findings are not in, including data on neurological tests. In addition, while the study did not turn up widespread post-traumatic stress among the W.T.C. babies’ moms, many surely were undergoing stress from dislocation and other factors. In short, the study’s recent partial report should not cause panic. Also, it’s likely the impact of stress was underestimated.

Ferry emissions need regulation

A recently released report by the Bluewater Network environmental group on ferries’ emissions levels has renewed concern about this form of pollution and the loophole that allows it to persist even as lower emissions have been mandated for buses, construction vehicles and trucks.

Of particular concern is the interim ferry terminal located just a few dozen feet away from the grass lawn and playground in Rockefeller Park, both areas in which young children play.

Diesel exhaust is a likely carcinogen, the federal Environmental Protection Agency reported last year. While federal clean air standards for boats are set to go into effect in 2007, existing boats have a 15-to-20-year window to keep operating at their currently unregulated levels. Ferry companies say they are taking steps to clean up their act, from exploring lower-emission fuels to exhaust filters. Meanwhile, as these costly changes may or may not be implemented, our children continue to breathe in this potentially deadly toxic brew. The ferry companies say the smog doesn’t reach the children’s play areas. Yet parents can smell it.

The Port Authority must step up its monitoring of the interim ferry site, and report back quickly to the community. And Governor Pataki, who has worked to clean up the Hudson River and has already acted against diesel emissions in the W.T.C. rebuilding effort, must move to rectify the ticking health time bomb of unregulated ferries.

Wind’s effects must be considered

Although the World Trade Center was majestic and awesome, one problem it had was of a natural sort — wind. Specifically, the trade center’s plaza was often buffeted by tremendous gusts, making traversing it a sometimes daunting task.

Presciently, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, last week asked the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. to look deeper into the environmental impacts of the World Trade Center Memorial and Redevelopment Plan, and specifically pointed to wind as an issue in the site’s redevelopment.

The redevelopment will also include a tall building and plaza areas. Let’s make sure this time there are wind studies beforehand so the new W.T.C. can be a more pleasant experience for all.


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