Testimony of Madelyn Wils, Chairperson of Manhattan Community Board #1,
before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works
September 24, 2002
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you today. As chairperson of Community Board #1 and as a director of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, I represent the residents, workers, and business owners of Lower Manhattan. I am glad to share the community's perspective on the response to the horrific events of September 11 by the Environmental Protection Agency.
One year after the attack on the World Trade Center, there is still a great deal of anxiety among residents regarding the type of pollutants that entered the atmosphere; how some of these materials are still being found in indoor spaces even after cleaning; and, of course, the long-term health implications from the exposure to these elements.
Although Mayor Giuliani's performance on the World Trade Center Pile and his response to the victim's families was stellar, his lack of concern for the community at large was alarming. In the wake of the attacks, the EPA took a back seat to the Mayor's office instead of taking charge of the public health efforts. It was their responsibility to clean up this devastated community that lived with the dust plume, debris that invaded our homes and businesses, and the fires that continuously burned for five months.
With the change in the city's administration and renewed interest in environmental issues, the EPA decided to initiate an indoor residential air testing and/or cleaning program. This was of course widely applauded. These efforts may be characterized, however, as too little too late. The clean-up program began enrolling candidates in the Summer 2002, nearly one year after the attack. By this time, the overwhelming majority of residents had reinhabited apartments cleaned unprofessionally or by workers without government oversight or scientific standards. Many of these people, having endured enormous disruptions in their lives, are understandably reluctant one year later to turn their homes inside out, even though they may be at risk of continued contamination or recontamination.
We have recommended to the EPA that the deadline to sign up for their residential clean-up program be extended past October 2, 2002, until the end of the year. This would enable EPA to do more effective outreach and overcome the accumulated public distrust. It would allow the agency to publish results obtained from the first months of testing, data that would help other residents make a more informed decision whether to sign up for this program themselves.
This information will also help the EPA make an informed decision on whether or not there is a need to expand the clean-up area. Scientists have referred to the boundary of Canal-Allen-Pike Streets as arbitrary. The EPA should conduct indoor testing northward and eastward (across the East River) to determine the range of contamination by the dust plume, which scattered debris in some cases for miles. It can then formulate an accurate and scientific boundary within which to pursue its testing and cleaning.
One of the drawbacks of the entire clean-up process was the lack of ability for FEMA to pay for the clean-up of small businesses. The Stafford Act should be amended so that we can be prepared in the future to help all those who deserve it. Large businesses cleaned their own premises, but 95% of the small businesses did not have insurance coverage for this purpose and could not afford environmental contractors. In fact, many of the approximately 14,000 small businesses cleaned their premises themselves, most likely insufficiently.
Schools, public spaces, and parks that were copiously contaminated by the dust plume have received little attention from the EPA. It seems arbitrary, if not perverse, that places used by children for learning or play received so little attention. Most of these spaces, when tested privately, showed evidence of contamination, particularly asbestos. In the future, the EPA should consider testing or cleaning schools and parks a primary concern.
Initially, the EPA announced that it would test only for asbestos. Now they have agreed to test for dioxin and heavy metals, but only in about 250 homes. Yet contamination appears to be in many cases random, or influenced by vagaries of wind that are wholly unpredictable. One floor of a building may show no contamination while another floor does. We ask that the EPA test all homes included in the program for these contaminants, at least until a sufficient body of data have been collected to rule out any threat.
All homes that are cleaned should be tested for all the above after clean up, and all research data obtained should be released as soon as possible. This should be accompanied by a complete explanation of all test methodologies used. This data should be documented on the Internet and in all local newspapers as well as in public discussions to help eliminate public distrust.
A number of research studies are investigating health impacts upon firefighters and other workers in the rescue and recovery effort. Residents who were encouraged to reoccupy homes close to Ground Zero have also experienced respiratory problems, like myself, or other health impacts. Research should be funded to study the long-term health impacts on exposure to residents in the vicinity of the site.
On another subject, we applaud FEMA for showing flexibility in allocating money toward transportation projects in Lower Manhattan. This money should be used not only to rebuild the aging, inadequate transportation infrastructure that existed before September 11, but on projects that will rebuild our business, residential, and visitor community by improving our links to the region.
In summary, Community Board #1 applauds the EPA for its decision to conduct the air testing and cleaning program for the residents of Lower Manhattan. They need to acknowledge, however, that their public outreach efforts have been inadequate and they have an important obligation to keep local citizens fully abreast about what their ongoing testing uncovers and of any potential health problems, which may emanate from their findings. We recommend that the EPA do further outreach; extend the sign-up deadline; and expand the scope of the testing and cleanup program. I am grateful for the attention Senator Clinton has brought to this issue, and I thank all the members of the committee for your concern and for giving our recommendations your consideration.