Volume 17 • Issue 27 | Dec. 03 - Dec. 09, 2004

E.P.A. extends public comment period

By Ronda Kaysen

The Environmental Protection Agency has extended the public comment period for the Draft Proposed Sampling Program to Determine Extent of World Trade Center Impacts until Jan. 18, to the relief of community representatives.

Heeding calls from community advocates to extend the deadline so that hired experts can weigh in on the 36-page Draft Sampling Program, outgoing panel chairperson Paul Gilman extended the deadline on Nov. 30, his last day on the job.

“The community was concerned that they didn’t have adequate time to hire the technical advisors and get feedback from them,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, the panel’s community liaison. “This is a great thing that the community will have adequate time now to have the technical advisors look at the documents.”

Senator Hilary Clinton and the White House Council on Environmental Quality created the E.P.A. panel last spring. It has two years to analyze the existence and extent of contamination from the W.T.C. dust plume and clean, if necessary, any remaining contamination. Before it can begin sampling residential and commercial buildings for contamination, the program must be finalized, a process that requires community imput.

“Our main concern was that we need the sampling program to be effective,” said Suzanne Mattei, an attorney who heads the national field office the Sierra Club. “A sampling program that is designed to find nothing is worse than no sampling program at all.” The program, she said, needs to examine soft surfaces and other areas that the program does not currently address. The independent experts — hired by the community — will be approved and funded by the E.P.A., said Mattei. “We definitely want and need this opportunity to put some input into the plan,” Mattei said. “We want a plan that is strong and credible and will have the confidence of the community.”

The agency, according to E.P.A. spokesperson Michael Brown, is happy to extend the deadline from its original Nov. 19 deadline to accommodate the community. The panel was created in large part to restore community trust in the E.P.A. in the aftermath of 9/11 after an independent inspector general report ruled the E.P.A. acted with insufficient evidence when it deemed Lower Manhattan air safe to breathe.

“For this [sampling program] to work, the community must support the plan in its final version,” Brown said. “It’s in everyone’s interest for the panel to have the community’s comments.” Although a two-month extension will delay the sampling process somewhat — the first phase is expected to begin in the spring — it should not delay the program significantly, Brown added.

In addition to funding the independent reviewers, the E.P.A. also hired a facilitator on behalf of the community to attend community groups and present the plan. In an attempt to reach out to other members of the community, the agency has also placed ads in several community newspapers. The sampling plan is available for public review on the panel’s website, http://www.epa.gov/wtc/panel/.


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