Something unclean about E.P.A.cleanup process

Well over a year after the collapse of the World Trade Center unleashed dangerous chemicals into the air and potentially dangerous amounts of dust swirled into thousands of Downtown apartments, the federal Environmental Protection Agency finally agreed to live up to its responsibilities and make sure Lower Manhattan homes were safe.

The E.P.A. had to be dragged kicking and screaming to administer this program and now after it has agreed to do so, it is doing far less than the minimum a reasonable person would expect from it.

The good news is there does not seem to be any reason to suspect that Downtowners will suffer from long-term health damage because of the Sept. 11 attack. But that does not shield the E.P.A. from shortcomings in the way it has administered the program, which has cost the U.S. taxpayers in the neighborhood of $30 million.

As we report this week, E.P.A. testers found that after conducting a cleaning in an Independence Plaza North apartment, the asbestos was double the acceptable standard the E.P.A. set before beginning the program. The tenants received a letter with charts that few people can understand, and they have been unable to get additional information from the E.P.A. for six weeks. Another tenant, who requested anonymity, told us that he also received a letter reporting high levels of asbestos after the publicly-funded cleaning and never heard anything from the E.P.A. The I.P.N. management reports that it has not been able to get answers about the cleanup of common areas in the building complex for months. (One hopes management remembers how it feels to be ignored the next time tenants request a meeting or information about rent protections – but we’ll return to that issue another day.)

A few weeks ago, we reported that E.P.A. contractors found dangerous amounts of lead in an apartment at 22 River Terrace. The most encouraging news in that case was that the lead levels dropped to safe levels after the first cleanup. But the E.P.A. has made no effort to inform other tenants living in 22 River Terrace who did not participate in the program that their apartments might be contaminated and should be cleaned.

After the fact, the agency says the standards it set for asbestos and lead are so stringent, that there is no need to worry when levels are exceeded. The E.P.A. adopted these standards and they can’t get away with saying they made things too tough on themselves at the start.

The agency must begin communicating better with the public, and must take common-sense steps to do outreach when there is evidence of contamination or when testing or cleaning procedures have run afoul. And the E.P.A. must investigate the contractors who have not cleaned effectively and hold them accountable.

That’s why we send our money to Washington every April 15.

Shining light on Libeskind

It was most disturbing to learn last week that the selected World Trade Center site design by architect Daniel Libeskind is not what he said it was. Despite his verbal gymnastics, the accomplished architect claimed that his Wedge of Light would “shine without shadow” every Sept. 11 between 8:46 a.m. and 10:28 a.m. and now after another architect conducted a shadow study, Libeskind admits there will be shadows between those two important times.

Libeskind maintains the plaza will have a special lighting effect between those two times, but until there is any proof of that – verified by independent architects and physicists – we will reserve judgment. To many, the shadow-less plaza had a symbolic, spiritual importance and for now, without information to the contrary, that is lost. The Wedge can be an important plaza on the other 364 days of the year, but we need to see more details on this and all aspects of the Libeskind scheme, because frankly, the public’s trust has taken a blow. It is up to the governor, the Port Authority, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., and most of all Libeskind himself to reconnect with the public.



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