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Context of 'January 10, 2002: EPA Spokeswoman Says Air Quality Tests only Performed Outdoors'

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EPA Administrator Christie Whitman assures New Yorkers that environmental conditions in Manhattan—both inside and outside—are safe, and provides a summary of the tests that have so far been performed on the city’s air and drinking water.
Water - Whitman says: “As we continue to monitor drinking water in and around New York City, and as EPA gets more comprehensive analysis of this monitoring data, I am relieved to be able to reassure New York and New Jersey residents that a host of potential contaminants are either not detectable or are below the Agency’s concern levels. Results we have just received on drinking water quality show that not only is asbestos not detectable, but also we can not detect any bacterial contamination, PCBs or pesticides.” She does say however that “following one rainstorm with particularly high runoff, we did have one isolated detection of slightly elevated levels of PCBs (see September 14, 2001).”
Outdoor air - Whitman says that outdoor air sampling does not indicate the existence of significant public health risks. This claim is based on results obtained using the outdated polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method (see September 12, 2001) which is incapable of identifying ultra-fine fibers and which cannot reliably detect asbestos when present in concentrations below one percent (see November 20, 1990). Even though Whitman denies a significant risk to public health, she does say “seven samples taken at or near Ground Zero have had marginally higher levels of asbestos that exceed EPA’s level of concern,” and that her agency has “done a total of 101 dust samples, of which 37 were slightly over the one percent asbestos.” Whitman does not mention that the EPA’s “level of concern” is not a safety benchmark (see (September 12, 2001)) but rather the detection limit of the polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method (see November 20, 1990).
Indoor air - Whitman claims, “New Yorkers and New Jerseyans need not be concerned about environmental issues as they return to their homes and workplaces.” But the EPA has no data indicating that indoor air is actually safe. The only indoor tests that have been conducted by the EPA were in the EPA’s Region 2 offices located in the Federal Building and a few neighboring buildings—and the results from several of these tests were positive for chrysotile asbestos (see September 13, 2001-September 19, 2001). [Environmental Protection Agency, 9/21/2001; Office of US Congressman Jerrold Nadler, 4/12/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Todd Whitman

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Several government experts testify at a New York City Council meeting on environmental conditions following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. [New York Daily News, 11/1/2001] Kathleen Callahan, deputy regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), insists that New Yorkers living and working near the World Trade Center site are not in danger. “The vast majority of our tests find levels of these contaminants pose no significant long term health risks to residents, business employees and visitors beyond Ground Zero,” she says, repeating what earlier EPA statements have asserted. Downplaying the danger of those areas where higher asbestos levels have been found, she states—falsely (see April 18, 1989) (see October 3, 2001-March 1, 2004) —that “EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards are set many times below the level at which you would expect health impacts.” She advises New Yorkers who live or work in the affected areas to “follow the recommendations of the New York City Departments of Health and Environmental Protection on how to clean up properly (see September 17, 2001).” [Environmental Protection Agency, 11/1/2001] Another expert, Dr. Jessica Leighton, assistant city health commissioner for environmental risk assessment, similarly states that people living and working in Lower Manhattan have little to worry about. She says in response to a question whether or not “people are safe at the present level” of contamination: “As far as the science has shown us right now, that is absolutely correct.” Like Callahan, she claims that EPA standards are overly protective. “The standards or tolerance levels that are being used are very conservative,” she claims. “For example, for asbestos, we are using the standard that is used for indoor air quality for reentry into a school after asbestos removal, which is the most stringent standard, as the tolerance level or standard for outdoor air quality in the residential areas. This is also true for other substances, such as dioxins, identified at the perimeter of the site…. Moreover, these standards have been designed to include many safety factors so that acceptable levels of exposure are far below the levels at which health effects are expected to occur.” [New York City Department of Health, 11/1/2001] Joel Kupferman, executive director of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, questions the accuracy of Leighton’s and Callahan’s statements and accuses them of withholding some test results. [New York Daily News, 11/1/2001] Kathryn Freed, a New York City Council Member who represents Lower Manhattan, said she was not convinced by agency assurances, noting that firemen are already showing symptoms of emphysema, a terminal disease for which there is no cure. “Just because it doesn’t reach a certain level is really irrelevant when people are sick,” says Marc Ameruso, a member of the area’s community board. [New York Daily News, 11/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Kathryn Freed, Joel R Kupferman, Kathleen Callahan, Jessica Leighton, PhD.

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Nina Habib, an EPA spokeswoman, acknowledges that the thousands of asbestos tests performed by the EPA so far have been of outdoor air only. She asserts that the results from those tests were “indicative of what’s in people’s apartments as well.” [Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Nina Habib

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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