Congressman Nadler's Testimony on the World Trade Center Disaster
TESTIMONY OF U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JERROLD NADLER (D-NY)
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, and Climate Change
February 11, 2002
of the September 11th Attack on Air Quality and Public Health in
Thank you, Chairman Lieberman. I would like to thank you and Senator
Clinton for holding this field hearing today, and for inviting me
to testify, regarding the continuing impact of the September 11th
attacks on the air quality in Lower Manhattan.
the Congressman representing "Ground Zero" and the surrounding
area, I am deeply concerned about the environmental and health effects
posed by the collapse of the World Trade Center for my constituents,
and for those who go to school or work in the area. It has now been
exactly five months since the terrorist attacks and, unfortunately,
the people in Lower Manhattan still do not know whether or not it
is safe to live and work in the area. The Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) has failed in its mission to ". . .protect human
health and to safeguard the natural environment . . ." by not
exercising its full authority to test and clean all indoor spaces
where people live and work. As such, the EPA has created a full-scale
crisis of public confidence.
Yet, all is not lost. The EPA can and must act now to remedy this
situation and make Lower Manhattan safe and to restore public trust.
Despite statements to the contrary, the agency does currently have
the authority and resources to do so, and it must do so quickly.
However, if the EPA continues to fail New Yorkers, I will introduce
legislation to mandate action.
am going to begin by being very blunt. We now know enough to be
alarmed and outraged at the federal government's response to the
environmental impact of 9/11. First, we know that EPA Administrator
Christine Todd Whitman misled the public on September 18th, 2001
when she said she was "glad to reassure the people of New York
their air is safe to breathe, and their water is safe
to drink." She made that statement without the indoor data
necessary to make such a pronouncement. Second, we know that the
EPA has made a series of conflicting comments about the presence
and quality of hazardous materials, and has even knowingly withheld
critical data regarding the causticity of the dust. Third, we know
that the EPA delegated authority to New York City to handle indoor
environments, but did nothing to ensure that the City's response
was appropriate. This left New Yorkers to their own, uninformed
devices, often without the means to take care of themselves and
their families. This is true even as the EPA had its own building
at 290 Broadway professionally tested and cleaned. And finally,
we know that the EPA has treated New York differently than it has
treated other locales contaminated by hazardous materials. New York
was at the center of one of the most calamitous events in American
history, and the EPA has essentially walked away.
Whitman's statement, reassuring the public about the safety of air
and water, which has been echoed by many at all levels of government,
was based only on the EPA's outdoor tests -- the results of which
are still in dispute. At that time, there had been no systematic
testing of indoor air or dust in residential or commercial buildings
by any government agency, let alone by the EPA. In fact, the EPA
did not intend to do testing even of outdoor air in residential
areas of Lower Manhattan until my Ground Zero Elected Officials
Task Force requested that it do so on September 21st. Ironically,
the very first public testing conducted inside residences, which
was commissioned by our Task Force, commenced on the very day Ms.
Whitman made her misleading statement. The results were made available
to the EPA on October 12th. The test results showed elevated levels
of hazardous materials in these residences. The EPA did nothing
and Ms. Whitman did not adequately clarify her statement.
recent weeks, the EPA has stated repeatedly that the City of New
York, not the EPA, is responsible for indoor testing. The City,
however, didn't get around to testing inside homes until November
and December. The full results of these test are still not available
and, according to the Health Department, won't be until the Spring.
I do not understand why the results of tests undertaken by a public
agency are being delayed for public release. Our test results took
less than a month to be released. Nevertheless, just three days
ago, the City Department of Health issued a press release regarding
this limited indoor testing. Despite a pacifying headline, many
the limited data in the press release has caused the scientists
with whom we've consulted to believe that full results would directly
contradict Ms. Whitman's statement. The release does make it clear,
as did our commissioned study, that there were disconcerting levels
of hazardous materials in peoples' apartments.
Whitman's reassurances are deeply confusing in light of other statements
made by agency officials and of other information we now have that
the EPA has not itself released. For example, in a copy of a January
25, 2002 speech given by Walter Mugdan, EPA Region II counsel, which
I have obtained, I find that he states, ". . .a significant
number of the WTC bulk dust samples that we analyzed did have more
than 1% asbestos." But an Oct 3rd 2001 EPA memo "Confirm[ing]
No Significant Public Health Risk" states, "The vast majority
of EPA and OSHA samples of air and dust analyzed for asbestos have
been at levels that pose no significant risk to residents and workers
returning to their homes or area businesses." This statement
has been made repeatedly by EPA Region II officials. How are New
Yorkers to interpret these conflicting remarks? I can't even tell
you what they mean except that they cannot both be true.
remarks are one thing, withholding critical data pertaining to the
public health is another. We know that it took a Freedom of Information
Act request by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project
to get test results showing dangerous levels of hazardous materials
in outdoor ambient air. The EPA claimed that this was an "oversight."
But now we have a new, frightening bombshell.
to this Sunday's St. Louis Post Dispatch, the United States Geological
Survey (USGS), using the country's best detection equipment and
methods, found pH levels in World Trade Center dust that are ".
. .as corrosive as drain cleaner" and passed this information
along to health experts at the EPA on a "government-only"
website. That's right. As corrosive as drain cleaner. (By the way,
it took less than 2 weeks in September for these test results to
be ready.) I submit this article for the record.
Schneider, the paper's Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental journalist,
charges "the USGS data was not released by the EPA nor apparently
were the environmental agency's own test results on the dust."
The EPA claims to have released this data to the public, but when
Schneider reviewed all of the EPA's statements made since 9/11,
he found nothing that warned of these high pH levels. According
to the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH),
such dust "once its in contact with moist tissue the
throat, the mouth, nasal passages, the eyes and even sweaty skin
it becomes corrosive and can cause severe burns." This
is utterly scandalous. We must find out why the EPA hid this information
from the public and we must see all the data now. I hope that Senators
Clinton and Lieberman will join me in calling on the federal government
to explain why New Yorkers were misled, and to demand the immediate
release of the full compliment of data.
The EPA has not only provided false reassurances and misleading
information. The EPA has also abrogated its responsibility to act.
In a statement issued on January 17th in response to a press conference
I held, the EPA states that it, "has lead [sic] the effort
to monitor the outdoor environment while the City of New York has
taken the lead regarding the reoccupancy of buildings. " At
least the EPA admits that it has delegated authority to the city.
Unfortunately, the EPA has yet to provide any justification for
doing so, nor has it provided any evidence of the oversight measures
it is compelled to take to ensure that the city is acting in accordance
with the strictest federal standards. On January 23rd, I sent a
formal inquiry to Administrator Whitman asking for answers to these
and other questions about the City's response, which I submit for
the record today. It has been over three weeks since the letter
was sent and I have yet to get a response.
EPA might say today, as it has in the past, that it does not have
the proper legal authority to take the steps we are requesting to
test and clean the areas affected by the collapse of the World Trade
Center. It will probably say that the Clean Air Act, for example,
does not govern indoor air and that it is therefore the responsibility
of the local and state governments, or even that of the landlords
and residents themselves. This is, again, all utterly misleading.
Section 303 of the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the authority in an
emergency situation to protect human health when there is an "imminent
and substantial endangerment" presented by a source of pollution.
The intent of Congress is clear in this regard. A Senate Report
from 1970 on Section 303 states, "The levels of concentration
of air pollution agents or combination of agents which substantially
endanger health are levels which should never be reached in any
community. When the prediction can reasonably be made that such
elevated levels could be reached even for a short period of time
that is that they are imminent an emergency action
plan should be implemented." In short, the EPA should not wait
for people to actually get sick before it acts, and it clearly has
the authority to act under this law. Indeed, an EPA memo entitled
"Guidance on the Use of Section 303 of the Clean Air Act"
was issued to the Regional offices on September 15, 1983 outlining
these very points. I submit a copy of this memo for the record.
the Clean Air Act is not the only governing statute. The EPA has
the authority to act on indoor air under the National Contingency
Plan (NCP) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation
and Liability Act (CERCLA). In fact, I understand that the EPA has
indeed been utilizing some of the NCP protocols at Ground Zero
however, they have not relied on this authority, or any other, to
test or remediate indoor environments.
we speak, the EPA is in fact doing indoor testing and remediation
in Herculaneum, Missouri and other locales without Superfund designation.
We must learn why the EPA is treating New York differently and I
ask the Senators present here today to help me find out. This double-standard
EPA was unwilling to act on its own, and yet did nothing to ensure
that those ostensibly charged with acting did "the right thing."
The EPA, on its website and in public press releases referred residents
to the New York City Department of Health, which recommended that
people clean their potentially asbestos-laden dust with a "wet
rag or wet mop." Clearly such cleanup measures are inadequate,
as seen by the EPA's own actions taken in its building at 290 Broadway.
I again today ask why the EPA applied stricter measures to federal
buildings than the City advised for local residences and business
equidistant from the World Trade Center.
Given the lack of action, credible information or oversight, I believe
the EPA has failed in its responsibility to protect the public health
of the citizens of Lower Manhattan. This is quite simply shameful,
for public health is the first thing we, as a government, must protect.
order to ensure a full and fair public assessment on the EPA's actions
following September 11th, I have also asked the EPA National Ombudsman,
Robert Martin, to investigate these matters. Mr. Martin has been
doing so, and I am disappointed he has not been invited to testify
and share the status of his investigation with the Committee. However,
I understand there is a time constraint today, so I have attached
a statement from Mr. Martin to be included in the record. As you
may also know, Administrator Whitman is attempting to place the
Office of the Ombudsman under the control of the Inspector General,
effectively stripping the Ombudsman of his independence and ability
to investigate these claims. I sincerely hope that Administrator
Whitman will stop her quest to eviscerate the office of the Ombudsman,
and in so doing, further undermining the integrity of the agency.
realize that I have leveled serious charges here today, but I believe
I have the moral responsibility to do so. The salient point is that
we still do not know the extent of the presence of hazardous materials
in some areas of the city. It may or may not be dangerous in many
indoor areas of lower Manhattan we just don't know. I am
dismayed that there seems to be an unwillingness on the part of
our public agencies to get this information. But given that we do
not have all of the facts, we cannot conclude anything. I do know
that we must get the facts and act swiftly and appropriately to
get the job done right.
must not fall into the catch-22 of saying there is no evidence of
a public health emergency without taking any steps to get such evidence.
And the burden should not be on the landlords and residents themselves
when the testing procedures and cleanup measures are expensive and
must be conducted by properly trained personnel.
EPA has the statutory and regulatory authority to test and remediate
indoor environments in Lower Manhattan, and has exercised such authority
elsewhere. I am calling on the EPA today to immediately commence
a program of full-scale testing and remediation using the best available
technology, and to make a report of all such test results and actions
available to the public. The EPA must also issue the test results
in a manner which is tied directly to health standards, so that
we can truly assess the public health risk posed to the people of
Lower Manhattan. And finally, testing procedures should in no way
impede the expeditious remediation of hazardous materials found
by other government agencies or private researchers. Similarly,
should the EPA find dangerous levels of hazardous materials before
the full spectrum of testing is completed, cleanup measures should
the EPA fails to act again, despite its current authority, I will
introduce legislation to compel it to do so.
might say that the measures I am requesting here today are expensive.
That may be, but we must protect the public health. And although
the cost may be high today, imagine what the cost will be in the
future if it turns out that there really are dangerous levels of
hazardous materials in Lower Manhattan. Imagine the City's and EPA's
contingent liability to lawsuits twenty years down the road. And
envision the potential health care costs.
is in the best interest of the residents, workers, students and
businesses for the government to act swiftly and appropriately to
address the public's environment and health concerns. We cannot
afford to wait while all the agencies point fingers at each other.
There is still time to right this situation.
time is of the essence. My office has received numerous complaints
from people experiencing adverse health effects such as headaches,
nosebleeds, and respiratory ailments. The symptoms are so widespread
that they have been dubbed "The World Trade Center Flu."
Public confidence is at stake. People know when they are sick, they
know when something is not right, and they know when they are being
lied to. I sincerely hope that we do not have another "Love
Canal" on our hands, but the best way to avoid that is to do
the necessary testing and cleanup now.
Thank you for inviting me to testify before you today. I look forward
to working with my colleagues in both chambers of Congress, and
with all interested parties, to ensure that New York City is safe
and prosperous for many years to come.