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EPA’s Test-and-Clean Woerthless: NY

by Jonathan Bennett

EPA’s Test-and-Clean plan lacks any public health or scientific benefit, states New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health strongly opposes the EPA’s "final" plan concerning contamination resulting from the collapse of the World Trade Center, which opened its registration hotline today.

According to NYCOSH’s Executive Director, Joel Shufro, "The EPA plan, once again, excludes workplaces in Lower Manhattan, even though there is not a scintilla of evidence that workplaces are any less likely to be contaminated than residences. The approximately 1,500 commercial and institutional buildings in Lower Manhattan, including offices, schools, government buildings, and firehouses, are excluded from the cleanup program. There is no scientific or legal basis for this exclusion."

Thousands of workers, many of whose unions are NYCOSH members, work in the World Trade Center area. Some of these workplaces are known to have been affected by 9/11 contaminants. Others may have been. Many Lower Manhattan workers, including workers who did not work on the pile at Ground Zero, have been diagnosed with respiratory illness and other adverse health effects. Their medical conditions persist even five years after 9/11.

Nevertheless, neither EPA nor any other governmental agency has ever conducted post-9/11 environmental sampling in Lower Manhattan workplaces or offered employers and workers environmental cleanups where warranted. According to William Henning, the chairman of the NYCOSH Board of Directors and Vice President of CWA, Local 1180, "In 2002, when EPA initiated a test-and-clean program for Lower Manhattan residences, workplaces were excluded. Now, in 2007, as EPA announces another test-and-clean program, workplaces are again excluded."

According to Henning,"We, along with many labor unions and community representatives told EPA in 2002, and we repeat today, there is no scientific or legal justification for the government’s refusal to conduct environmental sampling and offer cleanup in places of employment, while it does so in residences. Contamination does not discriminate. If 9/11 contaminants entered downtown residences, you can be assured that 9/11 contaminants entered downtown businesses, too."

The EPA WTC Expert Technical Review Panel recommended that workplaces be included in any sampling and cleanup program. Now EPA has arbitrarily rejected the recommendation of the panel and has again excluded downtown workplaces from sampling and cleanup.

"If this decision is allowed to stand," Henning added, "workers and employers in the WTC area will never know what exposures they had post-9/11 and will never have had the benefit of a coordinated cleanup, beyond the patchwork of efforts undertaken by some employers and landlords. We are gravely disappointed by EPA’s refusal to carry out its mission ‘to protect human health and the environment’ and by its failure to address the concerns of working people affected by the WTC collapse. We call on EPA to include places of employment in any 9/11 test-and-clean program. Our members, our neighbors, and our city deserve nothing less."

According to NYCOSH there are a large number of other, equally serious deficiencies, that would render the plan a failure even if workplaces were to be included. For example, the $7 million budget is a tiny fraction of the amount needed to properly test and clean all affected buildings.

the EPA’s refusal to test and clean supposedly inaccessible spaces will result in workers and others being exposed to WTC contaminants for many decades at the very least, the plan fails to address the obvious contamination north of Canal Street and in areas of Brooklyn and New Jersey.

According to Shufro, "The shortcomings of this plan are so enormous that its implementation will provide no public health or scientific benefit. Implementation of this plan is a disservice to anyone who lives, works, attends school, or spends any appreciable periods of time in Lower Manhattan or in other areas that may have been affected by WTC contaminants."

Jonathan Bennett is Public Affairs Director, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health

116 John Street, Suite 604, New York NY 10038
jbennett@nycosh.org
Tel: 212-227-6440 ext. 14
Fax: 212-227-9854

Please visit our website: http://www.nycosh.org

NYCOSH is a non-profit provider of occupational safety and health training, advocacy and information (including technical assistance and industrial hygiene consultation) to workers and unions throughout the New York metropolitan area. Our membership consists of more than 250 union organizations and 400 individuals: union members, health and safety activists, injured workers, healthcare workers, attorneys, public health advocates, environmentalists and concerned citizens.

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