EPA Screws New York

New plan for cleaning up 9-11 toxins worse than the old one

In June, he recounts, when officials released the comprehensive sampling plan, they warned they could only implement it by developing a so-called signature, or marker of Trade Center dust. But in October, an independent review panel rejected the proposed signature, consisting of slag wool, mostly, an insulation used in the towers. Hence the final plan, which limits the cleanup to downtown neighborhoods. And since the panel was nearing the end of its two-year time limit, the agency disbanded it.

"We had no choice but to fall back to this second option," Oppelt says.

Critics see room for compromise, but don't expect it. Last summer, Clinton's office arranged a negotiation session between the EPA, panelists, and critics. A day before a September meeting, EPA officials called Clinton's office and explained that, according to agency lawyers, they could only discuss contamination proven to have come from the Trade Center. Most items on the agenda, in other words, were off the table.

On November 22, Clinton and Nadler wrote to Stephen Johnson, the EPA commissioner, renewing the call for compromise. One week later, the EPA released its final plan.

"For the life of me," Clinton has said, "I don't understand why the EPA will not do the right and smart thing in helping us reach that kind of resolution."

Oppelt says he and his EPA colleagues "were ready to meet with Senator Clinton and talk," but then the proposed signature unraveled. He has agreed to push for more work on developing the slag wool marker, which he calls "a very critical piece." If the agency has a "defensible" signature, he suggests, it might be able to expand its current plan. But for now, he says, "we're moving forward."

So are critics. Last week, Clinton and Nadler asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to examine the EPA's "failure to establish an effective, science-based testing and cleanup plan." At the very least, they hope a GAO investigation keeps the issue from being swept under the rug.

"Nobody is walking away from this issue," says Kimberly Flynn, of 9/11 Environmental Action. "Only the EPA is walking away."

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