Volume 16 • Issue 23 | November 4 - 10, 2003



E.P.A. releases some lead tests

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Some Lower Manhattan residences will be retested for World Trade Center toxins as part of an agreement reached by Senator Hillary Clinton and government officials. But details of the plan remained foggy last week, even as the Environmental Protection Agency reported elevated levels of lead in 13.5 percent of the wipe samples the agency tested for metals and other toxins before cleaning the apartments in response to 9/11.

The lead results were released at an Oct. 28 Congressional hearing on the health effects of the W.T.C. disaster held at Mount Sinai medical center and attended by U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler. The results surprised Jo Polett, a resident of 105 Duane St. in Tribeca, who requested the wipe test results for her entire building after learning from the E.P.A. that her own apartment contained lead levels of five times the agency’s health-based benchmark.

Of the 21 pre-cleaning samples taken in Polett’s building as part of the E.P.A.’s residential clean-and-test program, six, or 28.5 percent, were found to have elevated levels of lead.

“I don’t understand the discrepancy, especially given the fact that 105 Duane is a new building with no internal source of lead,” Polett said.

After 214 apartments in the program were scrubbed, three percent showed elevated levels of lead, down from 13.5 percent before cleaning. The E.P.A. said 0.4 percent of 214 wipe test samples released had elevated levels of dioxin before those apartments were cleaned.

Bonnie Bellow, an E.P.A. spokesperson, cautioned on Monday that the W.T.C. dust plume did not fall uniformly around Lower Manhattan. Other factors that might influence wipe test results include whether residents had their windows open on 9/11, and whether buildings are older and might contain lead paint, Bellow said.

“It is really extremely difficult to extrapolate,” from the limited wipe test data to all of Lower Manhattan, “because there are many variables,” Bellow said.

The E.P.A. rejected repeated calls by Downtowners to do wipe tests on a larger sample of apartments.

Like many residents, Polett said she was dissatisfied with the agreement brokered last week by Clinton. Under the plan, the E.P.A. will organize and head a panel with representatives from the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, among other agencies.

After securing a commitment from government officials to further address World Trade Center-related health concerns, Clinton on Oct. 27 withdrew her hold on President Bush’s choice to lead the E.P.A., and Gov. Michael Leavitt of Utah was confirmed to the position on Tuesday with her support. New York’s other senator, Chuck Schumer, was one of eight to vote against Leavitt. Schumer’s spokesperson did not return calls to explain why.

Residents expressed frustration last week with the terms and the vagueness of Clinton’s plan.

“We once again have the foxes minding the chicken coop,” said Jenna Orkin, a member of 9/11 Environmental Action.

Orkin said that the E.P.A. should not be left in charge of the panel, since the agency’s independent inspector general reported in August that the E.P.A. misled the public about the air quality in Lower Manhattan the week after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack. In addition, the report revealed that the White House influenced the E.P.A. to downplay potential health concerns after the disaster.

The E.P.A.-led panel will be charged with the following within three to six months of the Oct. 27 agreement:

Sampling to determine whether any of the apartments scoured under the E.P.A.’s residential cleanup have been re-contaminated.

Reviewing the E.P.A.’s decision to use asbestos as a surrogate in determining the risk for other contaminants in all but 263 apartments that received more in-depth testing.

Within 18 to 24 months, the panel will pursue the following:

Identifying areas where the city’s World Trade Center Health registry could be enhanced to allow better tracking of the mental and physical health risks of workers and residents.

Reviewing and synthesizing the ongoing work by federal, state, and local governments and private organizations to determine the characteristics of the World Trade Center dust cloud and where it was dispersed.

Reviewing the geographical boundaries of the E.P.A.’s residential cleanup, in Manhattan only south of Canal St., and evaluating the need for additional action to be undertaken by the E.P.A. and other public agencies.

A spokesperson for Clinton’s office said last week that she did not yet have details on how many apartments might be retested, or when. A spokesperson for the White House Council on Environmental Quality confirmed that the panel will work out the specifics of the agreement.

In a written statement, Clinton stressed that she would have liked to see the White House agree to all provisions recommended in the E.P.A. inspector general report. These include cleaning workplaces as well as residences and scientifically determining the extent of the contamination around ground zero instead of setting the seemingly arbitrary boundary of Canal St. But Clinton said that the agreement represents a beginning.

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler praised Clinton for her efforts but called the agreement “a very minor step forward.”

“This is no great concession from the White House,” he said in a telephone interview.

Nadler said that the plan might nonetheless prove useful as a starting point for a reexamination of the safety of New York City after the trade center collapse.

Bellow said that the E.P.A. did not have a specific date set for the release of its complete wipe sample results, but that the agency plans to release its data on the 263 apartments in a few weeks.

Elizabeth@DowntownExpress.com


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