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New York Times

E.P.A. to Get A Scolding On 9/11 Dust


March 1, 2006—The City Council is poised to reject the federal government's latest effort to clean thousands of apartments contaminated by dust from the collapse of the twin towers, calling the plan ''technically and scientifically flawed.''

In a resolution scheduled to be introduced today, the Council will join community groups, labor unions and the city's Congressional delegation in condemning the way the Environmental Protection Agency has handled environmental and health issues resulting from the destruction of the World Trade Center.

''We will never successfully rebuild Lower Manhattan until we can all be assured that we have successfully cleaned up Lower Manhattan,'' said Councilman Alan Jay Gerson, a Manhattan Democrat who is chairman of the new standing Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment, which held its first hearing Monday afternoon.

The resolution urges the federal agency to devise a new sampling and cleanup plan that includes both residences and workplaces in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

The E.P.A. declined to testify at the committee hearing. But in a telephone interview yesterday, Alan J. Steinberg, regional administrator, defended the plan, saying it was based on sound science.

But he said the agency was re-examining a proposal that was rejected by independent scientists last year to use a specific substance — a type of building insulation called slag wool that was used in the towers — as a marker to indicate the presence of trade center dust.

''In that context, we're also reanalyzing samples of dust from our inventory, and if we're able to successfully demonstrate that slag wool qualifies as a marker for trade center dust, we'll consider making adjustments to our plan,'' Mr. Steinberg said.

The results of that analysis should be completed early next month, he said.

The City Council has no authority over the federal agency, but a resolution criticizing the cleanup plan would underscore growing dissatisfaction with federal efforts.

Various cleanups have been undertaken since 9/11, but they have not calmed community concerns about the effect of asbestos, lead, mercury and other dangerous substances from the towers that made their way into building interiors.

In the first decontamination program in the summer of 2002, about 4,000 of the 23,000 apartments downtown were cleaned and tested.

Last year, the federal agency considered a new plan to sample and clean apartments and commercial buildings in an area stretching from a few blocks north of Canal Street to the Brooklyn waterfront.

But late last year the agency dropped the broad sampling plan because the slag wool marker was rejected. Instead, it plans to clean only apartments in Lower Manhattan below Canal Street on request of the owner or resident.

The agency has also dismantled a panel of scientific and health experts that had been advising it for most of the previous two years. Testifying at Monday's hearing, a member of that panel, David M. Newman, distanced himself and the other members of the panel from the current plan.

''The 'test and clean' program currently being put forth by the E.P.A. has not been discussed or approved by the panel,'' said Mr. Newman, an industrial hygienist with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. ''It is E.P.A.'s plan — it is not the panel's plan.''

Even now, four and a half years after the collapse, concerns about health effects have not abated. There have been frequent reports of first responders' dying from diseases their families say are linked to their exposure at ground zero.

Doctors and scientists have declined to make a definitive link so far. But studies have shown that more than half of all first responders who worked at ground zero in the weeks after 9/11 have respiratory problems, and that the likelihood of more serious diseases developing in the future is high.

''There are thousands of people in Lower Manhattan today who are being slowly poisoned,'' said Representative Jerrold L. Nadler, a Manhattan Democrat, who has asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the E.P.A.'s handling of ground zero.

Mr. Nadler said the city ''could yell and scream at the E.P.A., which they haven't really done.''

The city's own legal liability is great. Hundreds of firefighters, police officers and sanitation workers have claims against the city because they say their health was jeopardized by their work at ground zero.