Volume 16 • Issue 41 | March 12 - 18, 2004



Residents file suit against the E.P.A.

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Residents, workers and students in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency on March 10, saying the agency failed in its duty to protect citizens from the environmental fallout of the World Trade Center disaster.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, sought class action status by asserting that the 12 individuals named in the suit represent a cross-section of all those affected by environmental consequences of the W.T.C. collapse. Many of the 12 say they suffer from respiratory and other illnesses linked to exposure to the W.T.C. dust plume.

The suit accuses the E.P.A. of misleading the public about the air quality Downtown after the terror attack. Christie Todd Whitman, then E.P.A. administrator, said one week after 9/11 that the air Downtown was safe to breathe, but that conclusion was judged premature last August in a report by the E.P.A.’s independent inspector general.

The suit also charges that the E.P.A. did a poor job cleaning up after the terror attack. The agency’s voluntary residential asbestos cleanup program focused solely on residences south of Canal St.

“We contend they violated the U.S. Constitution by subjecting residents and workers to bodily harm,” said Sherrie Savett, an attorney with Berger & Montague, P.C., a Philadelphia law firm representing the group of concerned citizens.

Claimants are not seeking individual damages, but instead request that the federal government pay for medical monitoring services to test for 9/11-related illnesses. The suit also demands that the E.P.A. test all buildings potentially touched by the W.T.C. dust plume, to conduct a thorough, professional cleanup where necessary and to reimburse those who paid for the private cleanup of residences, schools and businesses.

“They’re really going to sock it to the federal government,” said Bert Blitz, an attorney with the Lower Manhattan firm Shandell, Blitz, Blitz & Bookson, L.L.P., also representing the group.

Two of the 12 claimants declined to comment on the suit when contacted by Downtown Express, saying their lawyers instructed them not to speak to the press. The claimants include a Stuyvesant high school student; Janice Fried and John Calder, who co-own Steamers Landing restaurant in Battery Park City; Jenna Orkin, a resident of Downtown Brooklyn whose child attended Stuyvesant; Diane Lapson, a resident of Independence Plaza North in Tribeca, and Jo Polett, a Duane St. resident whose apartment was found to have lead.

E.P.A. officials were quoted as saying they could not comment on the lawsuit until they had a chance to review it.

Last week, the E.P.A. announced the creation of a 17-member panel that will evaluate the agency’s response to the 9/11 terror attack and recommend improvements if necessary.

Elizabeth@DowntownExpress.com


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