Report Questions Ground Zero Air Quality

Report Questions Ground Zero Air Quality

Mar 17, 2003 9:46 AM (ET)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Ground Zero tests by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the days immediately after the World Trade Center collapse did not support the agency's own statements the air around the site was safe to breathe, a newspaper reported. 

A report by the EPA's Office of Inspector General said the agency reached its conclusion on the safety of the air using a cancer risk level 100 times greater than what it normally considers acceptable for public exposure to toxic contaminants. 

The status report, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, supports the views of some doctors and public health advocates who evaluated thousands of firefighters, volunteers, demolition workers and laborers working on the site. 

"To say that it's safe, which suggests no risk, we just knew that was wrong," said Jonathan Bennett, a spokesman for the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. 

The status report summarizes preliminary conclusions. It is expected to be published in May and a spokesman for the inspector general said the findings could change before publication. The Office of Inspector General is an independent investigative office that reports directly to Congress. Of 3,500 Ground Zero workers screened nearly a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, more than half continued to suffer from lung, ear, nose and throat problems, according to a study released in January by Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

About 40,000 workers were involved in the rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts at the site. 

The yearlong investigation by the Office of Inspector General will determine whether air pollution monitoring data from the collapse site and surrounding areas supports what the EPA told the public about the health risks. EPA officials declined comment Friday. 

"It is inappropriate for the EPA to be commenting on a document that is not final and that is being done independently," said Lisa Harrison, the agency's press secretary. 

The EPA has come under criticism from inside and outside the agency over its public pronouncements on air quality around Ground Zero.


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