Bio-Whatchamacallit

Tom Ridge's 'Crazy' Plan to Watch the Sky for Spores

The Department of Homeland Security plans to fund the development of standards for certifying the reliability of detection equipment. But while the agency may one day be more open about its technology, the EPA is just learning the art of secrecy, as it adjusts to its new role as a sentinel against bioterrorism.

Program coordinator Coda would say only that Bio-Watch is retrofitting EPA air monitoring sites in major population centers, "including New York and other cities." He refused to name specific sites. But would-be saboteurs need only visit the EPA's public Web site to find the precise addresses and descriptions of the agency's existing air monitors, which can be found atop schools and federal buildings, among other locations.

The EPA's searchable database, AirData, also includes such details as what individual monitors are filtering for, and when they were last inspected.

Communities sponsored by the EPA's Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking (EMPACT) program, meanwhile, are posting maps and photographs of their air monitoring stations on the Web. "Most of the data for AirBeat comes from a new air monitoring station located on Harrison Avenue, two blocks east of Dudley Square," reads the Web site for AirBeat, an EMPACT site in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

An EPA technician also spilled the beans to a community organizer about the Bio-Watch filters he's adding to monitors in St. Louis. "The EPA hasn't installed new filters on any of our monitors," said the organizer, Emily Andrews, who works with the EPA-funded Community Air Project in St. Louis. "But my contact at the regional office told me he is retrofitting six or seven monitoring stations for Bio-Watch."

Andrews's EPA contact did not return a voice mail requesting an interview. Instead, a regional spokesperson in Kansas City, Kansas, Dale Armstrong, called back and confirmed that Bio-Watch is operating at several undisclosed EPA sites in St. Louis. "We're now getting the message out to our people that they shouldn't be discussing any details about Bio-Watch," Armstrong said.

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