Volume 18 • Issue 25 | November 4 - 10, 2005

E.P.A. to change dust plan after rebuke

By Ronda Kaysen

The Environmental Protection Agency expects to release a new plan to sample Downtown and Brooklyn buildings for remaining World Trade Center dust in the next month, now that a panel of experts derailed its original efforts.

Last week, an independent panel of experts from around the country rejected the E.P.A.’s plan to sample for dust from the plume that followed the Sept. 11 collapse of the W.T.C., insisting the sampling method is scientifically unsound.

The agency hoped to begin sampling a selection of Downtown and Brooklyn buildings for remaining W.T.C. dust this year, relying on a so-called signature in the dust. The signature would theoretically differentiate W.T.C. dust from other, unrelated city dust.

The sampling plan was launched in response to criticisms of the E.P.A.’s original cleanup plan and concerns from residents that toxic dust might still remain in New York City homes and workplaces. If the $7 million sampling plan determines enough buildings are still contaminated with W.T.C. dust, the E.P.A. would then begin a cleanup process. Any building participating in the voluntary sampling plan found to be contaminated would be cleaned regardless of the area-wide findings.

But the panel’s findings — a peer review process — rejected the idea that the agency could rely on one element, slag wool from the W.T.C. insulation material, to determine a signature.

“E.P.A. has not made the case that its proposed analytical method can reliably discriminate background dust from dust contaminated with W.T.C. residue,” the panel wrote in its findings. “The proposed method has not demonstrated the utility of slag wool as a successful signature constituent.”

Although the agency could take steps to further prove a signature in the dust, it instead decided to abandon that option because of the time it will take to find a more precise signature. It will now focus its efforts on developing an alternative plan.
“E.P.A. is analyzing the results of the independent peer review for the study and then we will decide what we ought to do next,” E.P.A. spokesperson Michael Brown told Downtown Express. He expects the agency will present a revised plan “in the next month or so.” The plan will not seek to find a signature in the dut, he added.

The latest development marks another setback to an already glacial sampling process. The E.P.A. has spent 18 months developing the sampling plan — the first step in what could be a cleanup process, if any dust is ever found. This latest setback was quietly posted on E.P.A.’s Web site without fanfare.

The once monthly meetings in Lower Manhattan of an expert technical review panel slowed to a trickle in the past year. The panel has not met since July and a next panel meeting date has yet to be scheduled, although the agency hopes to have one sometime before the end of the year, Brown said.

Last November, the day after President George W. Bush was re-elected, the panel’s chairperson, Paul Gilman, announced his resignation. Gilman’s replacement, Timothy Oppelt will retire in Jan. 2006 and his replacement has yet to be determined, Brown said. Oppelt announced his retirement before he was tapped to chair the panel.

The latest setback has done little to appease the concerns of residents.

“We’re very concerned what E.P.A.’s next move is,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, community liaison for the technical review panel and chairperson of Community Board 1’s W.T.C. Redevelopment Committee. “We’re very concerned about the details of plan B. We’re very concerned about it.”

The E.P.A. insists it has not abandoned its mission to clean Downtown of any remaining dust, regardless of appearances of foot dragging. “The agency is not going to just abandon this project. We are completely committed to a program in Lower Manhattan,” Brown said. “We want to know for certain that the health of those who live and or work in Lower Manhattan is protected.”

Despite E.P.A. assurances, residents see the latest finding as yet another setback for the neighborhood. “The community still lost because we haven’t had a testing program or a cleanup and it’s been over four years,” said Hughes. “No matter what, we still lost.”



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